A Stanislaus County prosecutor told a criminal grand jury that a Modesto police officer was looking for prostitutes to victimize before he found one woman and sexually assaulted her, according to an unsealed transcript.
Lee Freddie Gaines, 27, has since resigned from the department and will stand trial accused of forcing a prostitute to perform oral sex on him in a Modesto motel room. Gaines has denied the allegation and his defense attorney has argued that her client was seeking a confidential informant. (See grand jury testimony)
In a closed-door criminal grand jury hearing in March, an investigator testified that he searched phone records and determined Gaines had called 16 different phone numbers associated with people advertising on the Web site Myredbook.com.
The Web site is reportedly one of the more popular sites for listing sex-related services.
"He's a guy trolling on the phone, on RedBook not for the purpose of his job as
you heard from the other officers," Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris told the grand jurors in his closing argument. "He's looking for a hooker. He's looking for a prostitute, and he goes and takes advantage of her."
After hearing the prosecution's case against Gaines, the grand jury returned with an indictment. He has been charged with oral copulation by force, being armed with a firearm while committing a sexual offense, sexual battery and assault under color of authority.
Mary Lynn Belsher, Gaines' defense attorney, declined to comment Thursday.
Belsher has asked a judge to overturn the indictment, arguing that the prosecutor failed to present evidence that would have exonerated her client in the grand jury proceeding.
The criminal grand jury decides whether a trial is needed. The grand jurors listen to testimony behind closed doors; defense attorneys are not allowed to participate.
Belsher has argued that Gaines told a police sergeant he went to see the woman because he was trying to turn her into an informant. Belsher says this was evidence not given to the grand jury.
Police Detective Craig Grogan, the lead investigator in the case, told the grand jurors that he searched department records back to 2001, before Gaines was hired by Modesto police. Grogan testified that there are no records of Gaines managing an informant.
In her motion, Belsher pointed to statements from Gaines' former co-workers. She argued that the six police officers told an investigator they had never seen Gaines act inappropriately with women; instead, he treated women professionally and respectfully.
The judge said the officers' statements would not have been much help to Gaines had the prosecutor presented it as character evidence in its entirety. After Belsher's motion was denied, the grand jury transcript became unsealed.
In the grand jury hearing, the prosecutor argued that Gaines was on duty and used his authority to force the woman into performing the sexual act.
"This case is about an abuse of power," Harris said in his opening statement. "It's about the powerful picking on the weak."
The alleged victim testified in the hearing that she was working as a prostitute out of a room at Travelers Motel on North Ninth Street in Modesto. Women like her, she said, call themselves "providers."
She used a Google voice-mail account that would transfer calls from the phone number she listed on Myredbook.com to her personal phone. This way, potential "tricks or dates" would not have her personal phone number, she testified.
She tells them what motel she's in, only giving them the room number after they arrive in the parking lot. That's what Gaines did, she testified.
Investigators seized Gaines' personal cell phone and another cell phone he used for police work. Detective Darren Ruskamp testified that he examined records for those phones and discovered the calls made to people on Myredbook.com.
Ruskamp, who works in the department's high-tech crimes unit, used search tools designed to find phone numbers specifically on Myredbook.com. He testified that Gaines was on duty when he made more than half the calls to people listed on Myredbook.com.
It's unclear how many calls were made.
Gaines was a patrol officer with a beat in a certain section of the city. Uniformed beat officers do not research Myredbook.com and don't investigate prostitution or other vice crimes, former Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden testified. He said that work is done by the department's crime reduction team or the special investigations unit.
The alleged victim testified that a new client, "Mike," called her and arranged for 60 minutes of her service. She said she discovered that man was Gaines when he showed up at her motel room wearing his police uniform, a name tag that said "L. Gaines" and his patrol equipment.
The woman alleges that the officer told her to turn around and put her hands behind her back because she was under arrest for soliciting prostitution. She told grand jurors the officer handcuffed her and sat her on the corner of the bed.
At that time, the woman had warrants for her arrest for failing to appear in court on drug possession charges. She has used drugs and was an alcoholic, but she testified she had been sober for about a month when she was assaulted.
The woman refused to tell him where her phone and laptop computer were. The officer pulled out his cell phone and dialed. Her phone rang, he grabbed it and pressed buttons on it, she testified.
She told jurors that she assumed he was erasing his number off her phone. His number was missing after the alleged assault.
The officer also found a camera she had in the room to record new clients in case something bad happened to her. The woman testified that Gaines grabbed the camera and manipulated it. She later discovered that footage that had been on the camera was erased.
Then, the officer told the woman to please stand and walk toward him. She did, she testified, then the officer used his hand to push down on her shoulder, forcing her to kneel in front of him. She said he then unzipped his pants and exposed himself.
"At that point in time, he was telling me that he could take me to jail for what I for what I do for a living, what my profession is, and I asked him I asked him to please put a condom on," the woman told the grand jurors.
He didn't put on a condom.
She said she tried to back away from him, but he grabbed the back of her head and her hair.
"I mean, he still had me handcuffed with my hands behind my back," the woman testified. "So I just gave in and performed oral sex on him like he wanted without resisting any more."
Afterward, he pulled her up off the floor and told her to spit out into the sink. She testified that the officer rinsed the sink and handed her a cup of water to wash out her mouth.
Then, the officer took the handcuffs off and asked what the price would be if he saw her again. She told him she didn't want to see him again. Before he left, she testified, that the officer told her he would make sure that police wouldn't bother her anymore.
"And I told him, 'No thank you. I'm good. I don't want nothing from you,' " she told the grand jury.
She said she was afraid nobody would believe that a police officer sexually assaulted her, so she didn't call police. Plus, she was worried about the outstanding warrants against her.
Instead, she told a neighbor at the motel about the alleged assault. The neighbor told a law enforcement official, who notified Modesto police.
Investigators collected Gaines' uniform from his locker at police headquarters. The prosecutor told the grand jury that a DNA analysis found traces of the woman's saliva on the inside of a zipper on Gaines' pants.
In August, the alleged victim filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Gaines, the Modesto Police Department and the city. The lawsuit seeks $4 million in damages for severe emotional distress, pain and suffering and economic losses.
Gaines remains free as he awaits his trial. He will return to Stanislaus County Superior Court on Nov. 15 to schedule a trial date.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.