A Virginia sheriff said Friday he will no longer allow detectives to receive sexual services while investigating suspected prostitution after they spent $1,200 at massage parlors last month and sparked a public outcry.
Spotsylvania County Sheriff Howard Smith defended the practice as necessary to obtain a conviction but told his department he was suspending it.
"As sheriff, I understand the feelings and concerns the citizens of this county have expressed," Smith said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Friday. "And I empathize with those feelings. Because of the public's express response, I have suspended this practice."
Court documents show that four times last month, county detectives allowed women at Moon Spa to perform sex acts on them — once leaving a $350 tip. A total of $1,200 was spent during the visits, Smith said. He said multiple visits were necessary so detectives could build trust with the operators.
Detectives shut down Moon Spa last month. The two suspected operators and three women accused of working there face several charges, including prostitution and sodomy, Smith said.
Smith maintained the sexual contact was necessary to obtain a conviction. But law enforcement officials say undercover officers only need to get an offer of sex for money to move the case forward.
The practice has been used in Spotsylvania since at least 2003.
Earlier this week, Smith told The Washington Post that sexual contact is needed during the investigations because most professionals know not to say anything incriminating. And conversation is difficult, he said, because masseuses at the Asian-run parlors in the northern Virginia county speak little English.
But several members of Spotsylvania's Board of Supervisors have spoken out against the methods used in the investigation.
"All of us ... have been worried about this episode tarnishing the county and making us a laughingstock of the nation," board chairman Henry "Hap" Connors told the AP Friday. "That's why I came out early on and asked the sheriff to cease using these tactics."
Spotsylvania Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely said he respects Smith's decision to end the practice, but refused to apologize for the officers' tactics.