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Minneapolis cop at center of prostitution sting controversy has been the subject of several misconduct complaints

A judge says Officer Steven Lecy went beyond the call of duty while investigating a prostitution case last winter. It’s not the first time he’s been accused of misconduct.

Officer Steven Lecy in a screen shot from a 2013 episode of "Cops."

Last December, after responding to an ad on Backpage.com, Steven Lecy walked into a small massage studio in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood. He put $140 on the table and took off his clothes.

The masseuse, Terian Ann Jackson, stripped down to her underwear and began rubbing him. After commenting on Jackson’s “incredible” body, Lecy let her straddle him and rub his genitals. 

What Jackson didn’t know was that Lecy was an undercover cop, wired for sound, with fellow officers outside waiting to make an arrest. Yet Lecy would make them wait — the massage lasted more than 20 minutes before he signaled for his colleagues to enter. 

Nine months later, Lecy’s actions during the sting have become the source of controversy. On Tuesday, a Hennepin County judge dismissed all charges against Jackson, citing “outrageous government conduct” on part of Lecy. Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty, whose office represented Jackson, said Lecy went over the line by letting the massage go on for so long, calling his behavior “gratuitous and disgusting.” 

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“I think it’s pretty clear what’s going on here — that there is sexual contact,” she said. “This is not the behavior I think the citizens of Minneapolis want their police officers to engage in.” 

In light of the incident, the department said Wednesday that it’s re-examining its policies on prostitution investigations. Until that review is complete, the department has suspended all undercover prostitution operations. 

But this isn’t the first time Lecy — a decorated officer who’s appeared on the television show “Cops” — has been accused of misconduct. A month before he walked into the massage studio, the city of Minneapolis settled out of court in a federal lawsuit alleging Lecy threw a resident of Little Earth, the subsidized housing complex for Native Americans, to the ground by his hair and made racist comments. In February, the city settled another federal suit involving Lecy — this one alleging that he and other officers brutally beat a south Minneapolis man on New Year’s Day.  

A third federal suit is pending, alleging that Lecy helped violently beat a man during a drug arrest in 2013. Last week, the city tentatively agreed to a settlement in that case as well.

A history of complaints

In the past year, the city has paid out about $50,000 total settling cases involving Lecy — which is not the same as an admission of guilt. The third settlement is awaiting approval from the City Council and the mayor.

According to the federal complaints:

  • Around 4 a.m. on New Year’s 2010, Lecy and several other officers showed up at Michael Burnett’s house in South Minneapolis, responding to a call of shots fired in the area. Burnett was holding a small gathering. He answered the door and Lecy, without provocation, began punching him with a closed fist. He then shot Burnett with a TASER “four to six times.” One of the officers hit Burnett in the face with the butt end of a flashlight. They pushed him down a flight of stairs, then one of them stepped on his head, pushing his face into the ground.  Burnett suffered several injuries, including an orbital skull fracture that led to vision loss in one eye. He was booked for disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice.
  • In 2013, Lecy responded to a report of a man wielding a knife at Little Earth. During the search, he got into an altercation with resident Michael Ofor. He threw Ofor to the ground by his hair, held his head against the ground and said, “All you Native Americans are nothing but fucking animals.” (Lecy denied making the derogatory comment in a deposition for the case, and said Ofor was uncooperative during the arrest). Prosecutors charged Ofor with several counts of obstructing justice, which were later dismissed. He was convicted on one count of congregating on streets and sidewalks. 
  • In the third incident, Lecy and two other officers beat up a man named Louis Tate during a narcotics pat down. While Tate was on the ground, Lecy “repeatedly and violently punched [him] in the face,” the suit alleges. The officers brought Tate to the police station, but after seeing his injuries a nurse said he needed to go to the hospital before he could be booked. At that point, Lecy “grabbed [Tate] by the arms and told [him] that he was going to make sure [he] spent the rest of his life in prison.” Tate was found guilty of third-degree drug possession, a felony; another charge for second-degree possession was dropped. 

When asked for comment on these allegations against Lecy, the city responded by reiterating in a written statement from Chief Janee Harteau that the department is “no longer using undercover operations to investigate suspected prostitution in massage businesses.”

Beyond the call of duty?

Moriarty and her staff were “horrified” when they first listened to the recording of Lecy’s massage investigation, she said. Slapping sounds and moaning can be heard in the audio of the incident. Lecy told Jackson she was “incredibly beautiful” and had an “incredible ass.” 

According to the charges against Jackson, Lecy had asked asked for a “body-to-body” massage, which “entails the person giving the massage to rub their nude body on the person receiving the massage.” At some point in the massage, Jackson “began to rub the officer’s genitals while lying across him and rubbing her breasts onto his chest and pelvic area,” the complaint says.

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“Wow, that’s awesome,” he said. It was now more than 20 minutes into the massage. “Definitely gonna be a repeat customer,” he continued — the code phrase for Lecy’s fellow officers to break in. 

The Minneapolis city attorney’s office charged Jackson with prostitution, operating a massage parlor without a license, and unlawfully exposing her breasts and touching her client during a massage. Moriarty said her office asked the prosecutors to drop the charges after hearing the audio of the incident, but they declined. The judge dismissed all four charges this week.

The officers should have moved in much sooner, said Moriarty. The crime of prostitution began when the deal for the body-to-body massage was agreed upon and the money was on the table. Everything after that was excessive, she said.

She compared it to female officers conducting sting operations to catch johns. “You know there’s no contact in any kind if they can avoid it. So why is it that the male police officers are allowed to do this kind of thing?”

This isn’t the first time a Minneapolis police officer has been accused of misconduct in a prostitution investigation. The Star Tribune points out that two other cases have been either dropped or dismissed this month.

Police declined to release whether or not they’re investgating Lecy internally for this incident — or any other cases — citing exemptions from state data laws for undercover officers. 

“He certainly should be investigated,” said Moriarty. “I don’t think anybody wants Minneapolis police officers enaging in this type of behavior.”

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