Arizona Police Officers Got Naked, Allowed Themselves to be Fondled During 'Undercover' Massage Parlor Investigation, Accused of Abusing Power

Two Flagstaff police officers went undercover to massage parlors, took their pants off, and allowed themselves to be fondled eight different times.

As reported by ABC 15, the officers' actions may have been illegal according to state law. The operation, though, was approved by federal agents, Coconino County prosecutors and Flagstaff's command staff.

"Operation High Country Hydra"

The operation, called "Operation High Country Hydra," was launched after law enforcement received a tip in 2019 about Flagstaff massage parlors accepting money for sexual acts.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Flagstaff PD launched a joint months-long investigation to try and stop the suspected "human trafficking, sex trafficking and prostitution." However, when the investigation was complete, not a single trafficking victim had been identified.

Police arrested 13 people though, after two officers went undercover and got completely naked and got themselves fondled by the masseuses as part of the investigation.

Officers Allowed the Women to Fondle Them Multiple Times

Flagstaff police
Flagstaff police department. Twitter

Officer Dustin Eberhardt remembers the "confusion" from his first undercover massage.

"I was like, 'Well, do you want me to take them off?' And so she was like, 'Well, your comfort – if you want them off or you don't want oil on them.' There was kind of some confusion on that, so I ended up taking them off because that's what I felt like the suggestion was from her," recalled Eberhardt in a video deposition," Officer Eberhardt told ABC15.

The Flagstaff officer went on to explain that he tried to minimize the amount of time the massage parlor employee was fondling his exposed genitals. "As soon as I got aroused, that's when I immediately started asking about the money and how much. And like I said, I've never done one of these, so I was fairly nervous and I didn't know where to stop it. So I was trying to stop it quickly."

Police reports reveal Officer Eberhardt allowed different women to touch him seven more times over the next 48 hours. Roughly three months later, another Flagstaff police officer, Officer Hutchinson, went back into five of the same massage parlors and did the same thing. The reason for the second round of sexual contact was to see if the businesses would accept debit cards.

Both men documented every instance of sexual contact with a recording device, and in detailed reports. Officer Eberhardt's initial "confusion" about "where to stop" may come as a surprise - since the operation had been in the works for months, and the 'fondling' was discussed and approved ahead of time by prosecutors, police department leaders and federal agents.

Did Officers Break the Law by Exchanging Money for Sex Acts?

Massage parlor
Massage parlor (For representational purposes only). Google

Defense attorneys, trafficking experts and even other law enforcement tell ABC15 there are a litany of issues with how this operation was conducted.

For starters, state law clearly outlines that what the officers detailed in their reports is illegal. Second, experts say the fondling was not necessary for police and prosecutors to pursue prostitution charges. Third, investigators repeatedly said they were looking into "sex trafficking" and then proceeded to pay for sex acts from potential victims.

"So the officer[s] in this case could be charged with trafficking and they are not," said Brad Rideout, an Arizona defense attorney and former prosecutor, who has handled hundreds of prostitution cases in his career. "In Arizona, you cannot exchange money for sex acts while on duty. It is a crime," said Rideout.

Flagstaff Police Chief Claims His Officers Did Not Violate State Law

Flagstaff Police Chief Dan Musselman told ABC15 his employee did not violate state law becausethe officer did not sexually touch the masseuse. However, state law does not differentiate the touching. It just states "engaging in sexual contact" is illegal.

In an emailed response to questions, Chief Musselman also went a step further in the defense of his officer's actions. "Quite the opposite happened, the subject fondled Officer Eberhardt thereby making him the victim of Sexual Abuse under 13-1404." The statute the chief refers to, however, stipulates abuse only occurs "without consent."

In his response to written questions though, Chief Musselman said, "It was necessary for there to be direct fondling before to have proof sufficient to determine where sex acts were being officered [sic] for money." In Arizona, prostitution is defined as "...engaging in or agreeing or offering to engage in sexual conduct under a fee arrangement..."

ABC15 asked Chief Musselman: "Why was the negotiation (re: prices and services) not done before the officer rolled over, took off his boxers, and allowed himself to be sexually touched?"

He replied the following via email:

"When conducting undercover investigations it is vital to ensure that any offers to participate in prostitution originate from the person who is under investigation and not from the undercover officer. Therefore officers entered the establishments under the auspices to obtain a legitimate legal massage and waited to see if the individuals in this establishment would offer to participate in sex acts for money. There was an additional concern of potential language barriers that could prevent the officers from just asking for the sex acts for money without the fondling taking place."

Abuse of Power

Trafficking experts and victim advocates have expressed dismay and outrage when hearing about the operation. "The sex act doesn't have to happen. So for me, this is a far overstep into abuse of power, and raises some really disturbing ethical issues," said Jenna Panas, CEO of Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

"You don't ask victims to give you sexual pleasure. That is not appropriate," Panas added. "These are folks who don't have power and control over their own lives, and do not have the ability to give consent...and our police solicited sex acts."