Sweetwater County, WY
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Sweetwater County is a county located in Southwestern Wyoming, abutting the northern borders of Colorado and Utah. Its population is roughly 44,000, and its county seat is the city of Green River. Prostitution and sex trafficking are well-documented in the city of Rock Springs, Green River, and other areas of the county, generating complaints to police. Among the more serious crimes associated with the area’s commercial sex market are child sex trafficking and the targeted homicide of prostituted women. For example, in 2016, a male sex buyer stabbed two women, one fatally, at a Rock Springs hotel where he was allegedly there to engage in commercial sex with the women. The man was arrested and charged with first-degree felony murder for the slaying of one woman, as well as first-degree attempted murder for stabbing the second woman. The man found an advertisement offering “full service” for $300 at the hotel in Rock Springs. He arrived about 1 a.m. and went to the room the ad listed, and forced his way in and attacked the two women. As a result of this incident, officials in Sweetwater County have dedicated more resources to combatting the demand for commercial sex as a means of reducing related crimes.
In effort to reduce demand for commercial sex in the area, officers have been known to conduct both reverse sting operations. For example, in May 2016, a joint agency street-level reverse sting was conducted by the Rock Springs Police Department Street Crimes Unit (SCU) and the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office Sheriff’s Narcotics and Arrest Group (SNAAG). As a result of the operation, four male sex buyers were arrested after attempting to solicit sex from an undercover female officer. All four men were incarcerated at the Sweetwater County Detention Facility. The identities and images of arrested sex buyers were included in news releases.
A similar operation occurred in June 2017, that resulted in the arrest of five male sex buyers for soliciting prostitution. Detectives from the Street Crimes Unit and Patrol officers from the Rock Springs Police Department conducted two separate operations targeting individuals who were soliciting an act of prostitution. The identities and images of the five men were included in news releases. The RSPD Street Crimes Unit has been focusing more on reducing prostitution in the City of Rock Springs since the violence that occurred early in the summer of 2016. Multiple operations have been conducted since that time and more are expected in the future.
Officers have also conducted web-based reverse sting operations, where officers post decoy ads on websites known for commercial sex and communicate with suspected sex buyers and arrange to meet in person. Upon their arrival to the predetermined location and offering of money in exchange for sex acts, sex buyers are apprehended by undercover officers. For example, in 2015, a web-based reverse sting was conducted at a motel in north Rock Springs that resulted in the arrest of six male sex buyers. Members of the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office SNAAG (Sheriff’s Narcotics and Arrest Group) unit and county detectives arrested the six men and charged them with soliciting an act of prostitution, after each had contacted a female undercover operative on the Internet, then solicited her to perform sex acts for money. Soliciting an act of prostitution is a misdemeanor in Wyoming that carries a maximum possible penalty of not more than six months imprisonment, a $750 fine, or both.
In 2021, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office conducted a web-based reverse sting operation that resulted in the arrest of four male sex buyers. According to officials, one of the arrested sex buyers was a former Sweetwater County Democrat state legislator. The Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Spokesperson, Jason Mower, said that that the operation was preceded by a training was sponsored by Sweetwater Against Trafficking, a countywide organization, and Uprising Wyoming, a statewide organization,
“They put on a human trafficking investigation training for law enforcement. At the end of this training they conduct an actual live operation. A human trafficking operation that targets human trafficking and sex trafficking buyers.”
Officers from the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies across the state participated in the training. According to reports, the operation originally targeted individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money online, but no arrests were made in connection to soliciting sex from minors. The four male sex buyers were arrested on charges of soliciting prostitution, a misdemeanor. Their identities and images were included in reports by local media outlets.
Not all arrests of sex buyers are the product of proactive stings, but can result from investigations into suspected crimes of specific individuals, or as a result of tips from residents to local law enforcement officers. For example, in November 2015, the Rock Springs Police Department Street Crimes Unit received a tip that there may be illegal prostitution activity occurring at a local motel. Rock Springs detectives, along with Wyoming Highway Patrol Troopers responded, and observed multiple individuals entering and later exiting a motel room. Further investigation revealed that a woman from Las Vegas, NV was engaging in commercial sex, and officers made contact with three suspected male sex buyers, who were then arrested on a variety of charges including Soliciting Prostitution.
In January 2018, a registered sex offender was charged with a single count of “transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity” in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, after he allegedly transported two teenage girls across state lines for purposes of sex trafficking. According to reports, Sweetwater County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the man in Little America, WY, west of Green River on Interstate 80 after receiving a report from a Little America employee about two girls in a restaurant hiding from a man. The two female juveniles (ages 12 and 14) were riding in a pickup traveling from Washington. They met the defendant at a Seattle, WA home improvement store, where they were asking for rides to their grandmother; the man said he would do so only if they would “be his sex partners.” During the ride, the girls accessed his phone and saw messages between him and a friend related to kidnapping a female. One of the girls told an investigator that the man’s Kik account stated he rapes people and belongs to a “gang banger” group. In October 2018, the offender pleaded guilty to the sex trafficking of minors charge and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison (and 20 years of court supervision after his incarceration). The sex trafficker was also required to pay $5,000 to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, as an additional part of his sentencing.
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- 4 Arrested for Solicitation (2016)
- http://96kqsw.com/four-arrested-for-solicitation-of-prostitution/ (2016)
- https://wyo4news.com/news/five-men-arrested-soliciting-act-prostitution/ (2017)
- https://buckrail.com/what-a-week-for-rock-springssweetwater-county-coppers/ (2017)
- https://www.wyomingnews.com/rocketminer/news/multiple-men-arrested-in-prostitution-stings/article (2017)
- http://www.rocketminer.com/news/multiple-men-arrested-in-prostitution-stings/article (2017)
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- http://1360krkk.com/vice-operation-nets-six-arrests-in-rock-springs/ (2015)
- https://www.sweetwaternow.com/swcso-sting-operation-nets-arrest-alleged-human-trafficking-sexual-abuse-case/ (2017)
- https://www.sweetwaternow.com/former-wyoming-senator-among-four-people-arrested-soliciting-prostitution/ (2021)
- https://wyo4news.com/update-officers-posed-as-underage-girls-on-websites-in-attempt-to-lure-in-suspects/ (2021)
- https://www.wyomingnews.com/multiple-suspects-arrested-for-soliciting-prostitution/ (2021)
- https://oilcity.news/former-state-senator-arrested-booked-for-soliciting-prostitution-and-interference/ (2021)
Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:
- Tip Leads Detectives to Prostitution Arrests (2015)
- http://www.sweetwaternow.com/rock-springs-detectives-prostitution-investigation-ends-multiple-arrests/ (2015)
- https://www.greenriverstar.com/investigation-leads-to-prostitution-arrests/ (2015)
- https://www.heraldnet.com/former-everett-firefighter-gets-15-years-for-sex-trafficking/ (2018)
- https://k2radio.com/feds-charge-washington-man-for-transporting-teen-girls-for-sex/ (2018)
- https://cowboystatedaily.com/sweetwater-county-sex-trafficking-sting-ex-legislator-arrest-just-tip-of-the-iceberg/ (2021)
Background on Local Sex Trafficking and Prostitution:
- http://people.com/archive/wyoming-mountain-town-is-shocked-by-the-death-of-a-good-cop (1978)
- Tough police stand cuts prostitution in Rock Springs (1980)
- https://www.denverpost.com/boomtown-rock-springs-wyo/ (2005)
- http://kgab.com/prostitution-probe-leads-to-rock-springs-meth-bust/ (2016)
- http://archive.sltrib.com/article (2016)
- https://www.ksl.com/draper-man-charged-with-murdering-utah-woman-in-wyoming-motel (2016)
- https://county17.com/2020/10/29/part-iii-grooming-victim/ (2020)
- https://www.sweetwaternow.com/rock-springs-ready-to-join-battle-against-human-trafficking/ (2022)
- https://www.sweetwaternow.com/human-trafficking-ordinance-passes-first-reading-by-green-river-council/ (2022)
- https://www.wyomingnews.com/rocketminer/city-of-green-river-council-stands-against-sex-trafficking (2022)
- https://www.sweetwaternow.com/rock-springs-council-to-review-sex-trafficking-ordinance/ (2022)
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