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Mpls. police back off undercover prostitution stings after officers go too far

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The Minneapolis Police Department has suspended the use of undercover officers in prostitution stings, after three cases were thrown out of court because officers had sexual contact with suspects.

As MPR News reports, the department is reviewing its practice of using undercover stings in prostitution investigations, particularly at massage parlors. Chief Janeé Harteau tells the network the undercover operations have stopped.

The Star Tribune reported that three times this month Minneapolis prostitution cases have been thrown out of court because male officers working undercover went so far as to have sexual contact with the women they were investigating.

To win a prostitution case in court, prosecutors only need to prove that there was an agreement to pay for sex. Jeff Dean, the defense attorney in one of the dismissed cases, tells MPR the judge agreed that engaging in sexual contact with the suspect was "outrageous" conduct that violated due process.

Dean says a 2009 ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals clarified that police do not need to engage in sex to prove a prostitution case and that doing so is unconstitutional.

According to KARE 11, court documents show that one undercover Minneapolis officer allowed a naked "body to body" massage to continue for more than 30 minutes before signaling fellow officers to enter the room for a raid.

Hennepin County's Chief Public Defender, Mary Moriarty, told MinnPost the behavior was "gratuitous and disgusting," adding: “This is not the behavior I think the citizens of Minneapolis want their police officers to engage in."

Police told news outlets that none of the officers involved in the dismissed cases is under investigation.

MinnPost reports that one of them has been the subject of complaints in the past. Two lawsuits alleging excessive force by the officer were settled with out of court payments while a third is still pending, the website says.

The president of the Minneapolis police union tells the Star Tribune the undercover officers were operating within the department's policy and says the dismissed cases should be appealed.

Chief Harteau says a new Minneapolis ordinance regulating the licensing of massage parlors will be an important way for the city to deter prostitution, the newspaper reports.

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