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Meet the DA Who Has Been Accused of Sexual Misconduct That Affected a Murder Trial

In the era of #MeToo, can we hold law enforcement officials accountable?

Maricopa prosecutor Juan Martinez
Matt York / AP

Meet the DA Who Has Been Accused of Sexual Misconduct That Affected a Murder Trial

In the era of #MeToo, can we hold law enforcement officials accountable?


In  June 2008, Travis Alexander, a 30-year-old salesman, fell off the radar, not answering calls and missing important work meetings.  After a few days, a group of friends went to his home in the suburbs of Mesa, Arizona, to check on him.  They found his mutilated body in the shower. “We think he’s dead, there’s lots of blood,” one of his friends frantically told the 911 dispatcher. “There’s blood in his bedroom, behind the door and all over,” she said. It was a gruesome scene: Alexander had been stabbed almost 30 times, his throat had been slit, and he had been shot in the head. By the time his friends found him, he had been dead for five days.

On July 9, exactly one month after Alexander was found, his ex-girlfriend Jodi Arias was charged with first-degree murder. Initially, Arias insisted she didn’t do it. “No jury is going to convict me … because I’m innocent and you can mark my words on that one,” she told “Inside Edition.” She swore she hadn’t seen Alexander in two months. But her story changed and then changed again. Eventually she admitted killing Alexander, but insisted it was self-defense. Her trial made national headlines, largely because of Arias, a young brunette woman the media breathlessly described as “beautiful,” “lovely,” “attractive,” and “soft-spoken.”

The case was tried by Juan Martinez, a star prosecutor in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Martinez had handled some of the county’s most prominent cases throughout his career, but the Arias trial was big enough to eclipse all of them.

Martinez was known in Maricopa for being aggressive, charming, and playing fast and loose with the rules. Phoenix magazine described him as “the most reviled and revered person at the Maricopa County Courthouse.” He is one of the few prosecutors who has what could reasonably be called a fan base — the Juan Martinez Prosecutor Support Page on Facebook has over 13,000 members, and is filled with praise for Martinez and disdain for defendants and their lawyers. There are no detractors here, just people calling Martinez “Mr juanderful,” “a classy gentleman,” and the “Best Prosecutor ever!!!!”

But many feel differently. Martinez has what Phoenix described as a “proclivity for salacious yarn-spinning and below-the-belt tactics.” Said one Phoenix lawyer, “He has a way of getting what he wants in the courtroom, and he is truly relentless. This is not necessarily a compliment.” Mel McDonald, a former judge and prosecutor and current defense attorney, was more explicit. “Juan is a victory-at-any-cost prosecutor driven by his own ego,” he stated. “He lies easily and he always overreaches, always plays to the mob mentality. … He doesn’t play clean, and he is far too devious for me to have any respect for him. He is dangerous.”

The stakes are as high as it gets.  Martinez has been described as one of the top death-penalty prosecutors in the state, racking up at least eight death penalty sentences during his career. He has been accused of prosecutorial misconduct in six of those cases. The state court identified 17 instances of inappropriate behavior by Martinez in one case alone. And new allegations indicate that Martinez’s misconduct doesn’t stop at the courthouse. Since Arias’s conviction in 2015, Martinez has been accused of sexual misconduct and inappropriate sexual behavior by multiple women. In February 2017, Karen Clark and Ralph Adams, attorneys representing Arias in her appeal, filed a bar complaint that accused Martinez of significant inappropriate sexual misconduct related to the case, including having sex with a member of the press in exchange for favorable coverage and sexting jurors. In March of this year, they presented the state bar with new sexual harassment allegations, supposedly from as many as eight women. The new allegations raise even more questions about his professional conduct, especially when it comes to his relationships with women.

According to the attorneys, Martinez egregiously violated various ethical rules throughout the Arias trial. Martinez allegedly had sexual relationships with two bloggers who were covering the Arias trial. (Both women denied these claims, though Clark and Adams included extensive supporting evidence, including text messages and corroborating testimony. Martinez neither denied nor admitted to having sex with these women.) According to the complaint, Martinez “did so for his own selfish reasons, including so that they would publish certain non-public information that was damaging to Arias’s defense.”

The attorneys went even further than accusing Martinez of leaking information that would be inadmissible in court to the media. Martinez allegedly used one of the bloggers to “help him gather ‘dirt’ about a seated juror” because he thought the juror would be unwilling to sentence Arias to death. Martinez was unsuccessful in his effort to get the juror unseated, but his instincts were correct: That jury member was ultimately the only holdout on a death penalty conviction, resulting in a mistrial for the sentencing phase. (Mysteriously, “minutes” after a mistrial was declared, the juror’s name was made public.)

Martinez’s obsession with finding out private details about jurors resulted in additional violations of ethical boundaries during Arias’s sentencing retrial, according to Clark and Adams’s complaint. He allegedly engaged in an “inappropriate telephone and text-message relationship” with a juror who had been dismissed midtrial. The relationship, the complaint alleges, included the woman sending him nude photos and was encouraged by one of the bloggers. The dismissed juror later said that both Martinez and the blogger tried to get her to disclose private details about other jury members.

Clark and Adams presented the state bar with a wealth of evidence to support these allegations, including text message records, interviews with persons involved, and corroboration from friends and family. What’s more, Martinez did not explicitly deny most of the allegations, stating that his “private sexual life is no one’s business but his own.” Yet, in January, the state bar’s legal counsel dismissed the charges outright, refusing to even refer the case to the bar’s probable cause committee, which could have recommended consequences or sanctions, or to refer his case to a disciplinary hearing.  Although the bar stated that “some of the charges relating to [his] conduct …would undermine public confidence that her case was administered justly,” they said that there was not “clear and convincing evidence” that he engaged in the behavior he was accused of. And while the bar called these alleged relationships “ill-advised” and stated that they would “predictably result in allegations of misconduct,” they also ultimately agreed with Martinez, concluding that sexual relationships with members of the media “does not constitute a violation of the ethical rules.”  

Clark and Adams insist, in their appeal of the bar’s decision, that, “the sex is not the point.” The point, rather, is that Martinez allegedly “engaged in improper, undisclosed relationships with these members of the media covering the case; provided them after-hours access to non-public areas of the MCAO offices and non-public information about the case; used them in many ways … with the prosecution of a death penalty case,” they wrote.

“The improper relationships exist within the context of voluminous other acts of misconduct: which taken together constitute a gross violation of Respondent’s duties as a minister of justice, and a gross lapse of judgment in how he should conduct himself in the most serious case for which a prosecutor can be responsible: a capital murder case in which he seeks the death penalty.” (In March, the bar’s Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee ordered the state bar to reinvestigate Martinez, in response to Clark and Adams’s appeal.)  

It’s not the first time the State Bar of Arizona has dealt with allegations about Martinez’s conduct. In just the three years since Arias was sentenced to life without parole in 2015, Martinez has faced six bar complaints on various grounds. All have been dismissed.

Even now, in an era that demands both increased accountability for sexual harassment and increased prosecutorial accountability more broadly, almost no one seems willing to hold Martinez responsible—not his boss, County Attorney Bill Montgomery, not the courts, and not the state bar.

The same leniency has not been extended to Martinez’s opponents in court. In 2016, Arias’s former attorney, Kirk Nurmi, self-published a book, Trapped with Ms. Arias. The book included what the state bar described as “disparaging remarks” about the defendant and revealed details about private conversations Nurmi had with Arias and members of her family. It also included evidence that had been deemed inadmissible by the trial judge. A bar complaint was filed against Nurmi, and he was disbarred for publishing the book.  

Like Nurmi, Martinez published a book in 2016 called Conviction: The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars. Similarly, his book promised to “unearth new details from the investigation that were never revealed at trial, explor[e] key facts from the case and the pieces of evidence he chose to keep close to the vest.” The book also included unfavorable characterizations of Arias, and alleged that one juror was in love with her. A bar complaint was also filed against Martinez for his book. Although Nurmi was disbarred, Martinez’s complaint was dismissed.

Of course, as a defense attorney, Nurmi’s decision to speak negatively about Arias has significantly different implications than Martinez’s decision to do the same. But whether or not Martinez’s decision to write a book was technically improper, it was certainly unprofessional. The state bar agreed. “The perception created when a prosecutor attempts to immediately profit from his participation in a high-profile case is also very concerning,” stated the court’s order of dismissal. Others also criticized Martinez’s book. Dan Barr, an attorney in Phoenix and a former member of the State Bar of Arizona’s Ethics Committee, said it was a “horrible idea.”

“I can’t imagine what the County Attorney’s Office is thinking,” he stated. “There’s no upside for the county here in Juan Martinez publishing. There obviously is an upside for Juan Martinez in promoting himself and publishing his book.”

Not only has the state bar declined to hold Martinez accountable, but judges have repeatedly turned down opportunities to penalize outrageous behavior. In 2005, Martinez compared a Jewish defense lawyer to Adolf Hitler, which the Arizona Court of Appeals described as “reprehensible.” During that same trial, Martinez told the jury that the defendant had covered up past crimes, even though the judge had ruled that information could not be disclosed to the jury. The Court of Appeals called the disclosure “improper.” Still, the case was not overturned and no action was taken against Martinez.

Also in 2005, Martinez prosecuted Cory Morris, who was convicted of killing five sex workers and dumping their bodies in an alley. Martinez accused Morris of necrophilia, telling the jury that the defendant “continued to have sex with their bodies until they rotted and fell apart.” There was only one problem—the medical examiner hadn’t concluded any such thing. Yet, the Arizona Supreme Court excused his behavior, concluding that prosecutors have “wide latitude,” and did not overturn Morris’s case.

Even without the state bar and the courts, Martinez is presumably accountable to his office. But his boss, County Attorney Bill Montgomery, has repeatedly swept aside the misconduct allegations. Montgomery has even blamed the recurring complaints against Martinez on the ability of people to file complaints, implying that they are frivolous. Montgomery and his line prosecutors are emphatic about being tough on crime, and adhere to an ethos of harsh consequences. Yet, when it comes to Martinez, that attitude does not seem to apply.

Clark and Adams’s petition is still under consideration, so there remains a chance that Martinez will be held accountable by the state bar. But until then, he continues to be one of the most powerful prosecutors in Arizona—and continues to evade consequences.

The New Orleans Police Raid That Launched A Dancer Resistance

From local charities, to the editorial pages, to city politicians, New Orleans strip clubs were blamed for human trafficking, leading to abusive police raids – harming the dancers they claimed they were protecting, and pushing the dancers to fight back.

Lyn Archer
Photo: Jason Kerzinski

The New Orleans Police Raid That Launched A Dancer Resistance

From local charities, to the editorial pages, to city politicians, New Orleans strip clubs were blamed for human trafficking, leading to abusive police raids – harming the dancers they claimed they were protecting, and pushing the dancers to fight back.


On a quiet Thursday night in mid-February, just two days after the revelry of Mardi Gras day, the narrow gutters and treacherous potholes lining Bourbon Street are nearly empty. Only days earlier, tangles of gold and purple and silver beads, drifting like sea foam trapped by French Quarter curbs, were swept away just before Ash Wednesday services began.

Cutting easily through the thin Bourbon Street crowd was Lyn Archer, with pale blonde hair and an efficient walk. She turned us right onto Iberville, past the Penthouse Club and its cool blue spotlights, to stop at an adult establishment called Gentleman’s Quarters. It was closed. Next to Gentleman’s Quarters was Dixie Divas, also shuttered. This whole stretch of Iberville, just a block away from the mayhem on Bourbon, heading in the direction of the Mississippi River, was hushed in the dark, and for a few minutes we were all alone.

Archer has worked as a stripper in New Orleans for two years, after growing up in California’s Central Valley and dancing in Portland and in Key West. She had dreams of one day taking over Dixie Divas, imagining it as an establishment run by dancers. Dixie Divas was one of the smaller clubs that wasn’t connected to a larger corporate brand, like Hustler or Penthouse. It shared a wall with the equally modest in size Gentleman’s Quarters. “You could drill a hole through the wall and hit the stripper on the other side,” Archer said.

But Dixie Divas was closed – permanently – after state and local law enforcement raided it and seven other clubs in late January, putting hundreds of dancers out of work just weeks before Carnival season kicked into full swing.

Law enforcement portrayed the clubs as fronts for human trafficking, but their evidence was thin to nonexistent. Prior to the January raids, undercover agents posed as club customers, itemizing conduct – such as a dancer touching their own body – that they said was in violation of the regulations clubs have to follow to maintain their liquor licenses. But these alleged regulatory violations, documented in notices of suspension from the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), were not indicia of trafficking. So why the highly publicized raids and the club closures that followed?

Prior to law enforcement’s undercover club visits, local paper the Times-Picayune ran a three-part investigative series purporting to reveal trafficking on Bourbon Street and French Quarter clubs. Reporters said the head of a local arm of an international charity with ties to the Catholic church, Covenant House, was “integral” to their reporting. While the Times-Picayune stories included two previously reported cases of potential trafficking, they offered no examples of trafficking inside the clubs. The Washington Post’s Radley Balko criticized it as a  “three-part newspaper series in search of a problem” but the Times-Picayune’s editorial board claimed “the French Quarter’s most famous street is a hub for sex trafficking.”

Then came the raids. In eight clubs during one week in late January, ATC agents along with officers from the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) entered the premises during business hours, corralling and questioning dancers. Officers refused to let them change out of their work attire. They read dancers’ legal identification aloud in front of customers, and photographed them – partially undressed – on their mobile phones. “I witnessed women weeping until they vomited,” one dancer said.

At a Jan. 29 press conference, Louisiana ATC Commissioner Juana-Marine Lombard acknowledged that that no trafficking arrests were made, yet NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison deemed the undercover investigations and raids a “first step” to “confront human trafficking.” Meanwhile, the New Orleans City Council was prepared to vote on a proposal to cap French Quarter strip clubs, with the goal of limiting them to one per block. That meant more clubs would share the fate of Dixie Divas.

More harm than help

From the charities to the editorial pages to the politicians, backers of the campaign against alleged human trafficking in New Orleans clubs failed to take into account the harms they perpetrated against the dancers they claimed they were protecting. Official explanations of the raids caricatured strippers as, at best, unwitting victims, and, at worst, as willing participants in a “hub” of human trafficking, But most important, and what most city officials failed to acknowledge, was the raids put hundreds of strippers out of work.

Within days of the raids, dancers and other workers in the French Quarter clubs led an “Unemployment March” to protest the club closures. They sold dollar bottles of water labeled “Stripper Tears,” carried signs reading “Twerking class hero” and “Your political agenda shouldn’t cost me my future.” They chanted, “Strippers’ rights are human rights,” “my body, my choice,” and “I am not a victim! I do not want to be saved!” The large and passionate protests brought media coverage that was starkly different from the pre-raid pieces with Covenant House-guided narratives: it actually acknowledged the dancers could speak for themselves.

Cali
Photo: Lyn Archer

The Times-Picayune was now covering their protests, somewhat sympathetically, and so was the national media. An energized and powerful protest movement of dancers trained its sights on a Jan. 31 press conference by departing Mayor Mitch Landrieu to announce Bourbon Street’s infrastructure progress. Dancers gathered behind local tourism officials and drowned them out by chanting “Sex work is real work” and “Workers’ rights are women’s rights.” Landrieu himself appeared to be a no-show even though he was scheduled to speak at the event, leading to speculation that he had been scared off by the large and boisterous protest.

Dancers organizing under the name BARE—Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers—had taken the attention off of Bourbon Street infrastructure and onto club closures. It was an action that tapped into BARE’s roots: some dancers had been organizing back in in 2015, after another series of ATC strip club raids, dubbed “Operation Trick or Treat.” That’s when Lyn Archer began working as a stripper on Bourbon Street. By the January 2018 raids, Archer was BARE’s most visible spokeswoman.

When we met after Mardi Gras, Archer explained a theory that her colleague, Devin Ladner, had about the 2018 raids: If the clubs raided closed for good, then the city would have achieved its one-club-per-block plan. “Let’s just drum up the grounds to raid these clubs anyway, and then we’ll just say it happened through ‘natural attrition,’” Archer said. “They died on their own.”

Ladner was getting ready to return to work at the Penthouse Club on Iberville when we met that same week. The club is on the same street as the now-shuttered Dixie Divas, but on the brighter end nearest Bourbon. Ladner took a seat on her living room floor in her house in Uptown, her long legs in thin over-the-knee socks. Though the Penthouse club was not raided, she said she has to go to work and interact with patrons under the assumption that any one of them could be for undercover with the ATC or NOPD.

Despite ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard’s claim that “we have no issues with the dancers,” it was the dancers’ conduct that officers monitored, not the conduct of the club owners or management. “It’s been hard to be a fantasy anymore,” Ladner said. “I’m worried that it could incriminate me for a solicitation charge, even if I’m not facilitating.” For example, if customers want her to engage in dirty talk, purely as a fantasy—a common request—she’s concerned that could be misconstrued as facilitating prostitution.

Ladner brought over her makeup kit, spreading out eyeshadows in their lidded black plastic pots on the glass-topped coffee table, next to copies of the books Striptastic! and The Modern Herbal Dispensatory. Her mobile phone, wrapped in a pin-up skin, was at her knee. She hasn’t been stripping for long, she said—almost a year and a half. But the idea of losing her job frightens her, because that would mean a return to the work she used to do.

Before dancing, she had been a bartender and a waitress. “The hours that I was working and the emotional abuse I put up with being in the service industry as a woman,” she explained, “and making shit for pay and not ever being respected and always being something that can be easily replaced … I can’t go back to it. Because I know what something else is like.”

A history of and against vice

Despite its reputation for perpetual, decadent decay, New Orleans—which celebrates its 300th birthday this year—has a history of running vice out of town, especially when political opportunity and sensationalism collide. “This is what they used to shut down Storyville,” Christie Craft, a New Orleans dancer and writer who had been documenting some of the protests on her Instagram account, said as she sipped a lemonade that Mardi Gras week. She sat in a French restaurant on Rampart Street, which separates the French Quarter from the historic African-American neighborhood, Treme.

One hundred years ago, Craft began, the city’s legal red light district, Storyville, was shut down in a swirl of wartime propaganda about venereal disease, bolstered by a national campaign by social reformers attacking “white slavery.” Brothels shuttered and workers scattered. “What’s there now,” Craft explained, “is leveled public housing and dilapidated buildings.” Storyville had been bounded on one side by Iberville, now home to several newly closed strip clubs, and it ran along the legendary Basin Street, parallel to Rampart. Craft notes the irony that Covenant House sits right between Rampart and Basin. Covenant House, of course, is the Catholic-affiliated charity that helped shape the media narrative that the French Quarter was a trafficking “hub.”

The executive director of Covenant House New Orleans, Jim Kelly, has long campaigned against the clubs, claiming that stripping leads young women to become victims of trafficking.

In 2016, Kelly offered to help the New Orleans city government hire an attorney who specializes in creating city ordinances that regulate adult businesses, according to emails obtained by BARE and shared with The Appeal. That attorney, Scott Bergthold, has been working at least as far back as two decades to tightly regulate strip clubs and other adult businesses. Bergthold describes his law practice as “assisting communities in protecting their citizens against the detrimental impacts of the sex industry.” A few months before the raids, the city hired Bergthold.

Covenant House’s anti-club campaign, which helped drive the raids, Craft explained, was an extension of a long, historical arc beginning with the moral panic about “white slavery” that helped take down Storyville a century before. But this time, sex workers would not be so easily disappeared.

Hundreds of dancers, far beyond those directly involved in groups like BARE, organized in resistance. “It was a turning point,” Ladner, the dancer, said, adding that one of her friends who had not been politically active told her, ”I have to say what is going on in my life because I don’t know how else I am going to feed my kids.”

By targeting so many dancers—one owner said they had 1,500 contract workers across two clubs—there was simply no way to ignore attempts to erase them from the French Quarter. On the black gas lamp posts along Bourbon, stickers fast appeared and remained through Carnival: a dancer’s bright red heel crushing an NOPD patrol car, captioned LEAVE US ALONE / NO PIGS IN OUR CLUBS.

And when dancers took to the streets in the days after the raids, they marched under that simple, yet powerful slogan: Leave us alone.

“That’s actually all we want,” Lyn Archer from BARE told me, as she joined Craft at the Rampart Street restaurant. “All you have to do is leave us alone. And it’s not possible for them, for law enforcement and even city officials to comprehend that that could be a possibility.”

If what public officials really want is to prevent trafficking, Archer continued, then they “need to create a space where people can report their crimes. And every human rights group in the world has said that.” Among those groups, who support the rights of sex workers by calling for the decriminalization of sex work, are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and several UN agencies including the World Health Organization.

But with the raids, New Orleans is moving in the opposite direction: Instead of decriminalizing prostitution in order to protect sex workers, law enforcement is trying to link dancers to prostitution. “They are taking the biblical shepherd’s crook,” Archer said, “and pulling you into criminality.”

In the wake of the raids, one club, Dixie Divas, closed permanently; according to the ATC, another club, Lipstixx, surrendered its liquor license, while another, Temptations, lost its permit. The remaining clubs agreed to temporary license suspensions and hefty fines, as well as to hold mandatory human trafficking trainings for workers and some to fire workers “being involve [sic] with prostitution or drugs” on the first offense.

Now, according to Archer, “there’s a bunch of new rules, rules that aren’t going to protect the worker or make them feel better. It’s kind of like TSA.” And club owners and management have just shifted the burden of protecting the club from crackdowns onto the dancers themselves.

A surprise win

About one month after Carnival season concluded, the New Orleans City Council finally voted on a cap on Bourbon Street strip clubs, a variation of the measure  which had been introduced by Councilmember-at-Large Stacy Head last fall, without the one-club-per-block restriction. As written, the proposal would allow existing clubs to remain. But in capping “through attrition,” the proposal meant that if clubs were cited for new violations—like those shuttered in January after the NOPD and ATC raids—they would not be allowed to reopen.

But it was a very different political moment when the City Council convened on March 22: With their disruption of Mayor Landrieu’s press conference in late January, the dancers had scored a significant direct hit on a popular Southern politician, who, with a popular new memoir, was making the rounds on national television and garnering talk of a 2020 presidential run. The dancers’ protests themselves also received surprisingly sympathetic coverage in the mainstream media.  BARE and their supporters packed the meeting, with Lyn Archer the first to speak. “I’m here standing for a group of strippers and nightlife workers that was founded because of these measures,” she said.  “Please take us at our word that it is us–we are the people being hurt by this. … Please don’t look at us and take our jobs away, and just say, ‘Let them eat cake.’”

Bettie
Photo: Lyn Archer

Proponents of the club cap like Head called it “merely a land use matter”—but no one from the community showed up to speak in its favor.

The hearing then took a stunning turn when Councilmember-at-Large Jason Williams said he could not support the cap because the NOPD and ATC-led raids were carried out “seemingly in conjunction” with the legislative effort at the council. “I do have some deep concerns with why we would have wasted police manpower on those raids,” he began. “I understand that there were a number of what I believe were clear constitutional violations: having people line up against the wall, that are workers, and patrons are just sitting there watching, using their real names, taking photographs of them wearing their dance attire. That’s horrible, it’s offensive, it’s misogynistic.”

Williams’s broadside against January’s club raids, along with Archer’s passionate protest about the harms that would come to sex workers because of the cap, moved other council members to vote against it. “I assumed I was going to walk in here and vote for it, and it was an easy vote,” Councilmember James Gray said. “And I am going to vote against the proposal…. and what convinces me is the statement that a grown person has a right to do what they want to do, with themselves and their bodies and their lives.”

Minutes later, the cap was defeated in a 4-3 vote, the clearest sign yet that the protests had made their mark.

The next fight

It has been nearly four months since the raids, and the NOPD and ATC have yet to to announce any alleged human trafficking in the French Quarter clubs. Meanwhile, despite those saying they have the best interests of dancers at heart—like Councilmember Kristin Palmer, who in a 2016 petition in support of dramatically curbing strip clubs in the city suggested she spoke for women in the clubs “who have no voice and no resources”—more deep-rooted and long-standing challenges faced by New Orleans dancers remain unaddressed. This has only been exacerbated by the raids: The dancers have expended so much energy on simply keeping the clubs open and keeping their jobs that day-to-day struggles have been ignored.

The issues dancers actually face are far less sensational than fears of human trafficking. Some of the clubs in the French Quarter possess beautiful historic architectural details like “medallions on the ceilings,” as Archer told me, and solid wood stages. But their age often means that they are decaying and unsafe to work in. In one Bourbon Street club where Archer worked, rainwater leaking into the building produced “a waterfall coming down into a trash can at the top of the stairwell.”

“I stopped working there,” Archer continued, “because I saw a rat in the dressing room that was literally the size of a cat, and faced it off on the dressing room counter. There’s no respect here.”

And just as before the raids, there’s no incentive for club owners to improve working conditions. “They don’t have to care about their workforce because they are always going to have a work force,” Archer said. “No matter how bad it gets it’s always going to be better than the minimum wage here.” When Archer worked at the rat-infested and problem plumbing plagued Bourbon Street club she could have gotten a job tending bar. But she remained at the club nonetheless. “It was still better,” she said. “Rat world was better.”

City officials clearly grasp the often rough conditions at the clubs but have yet to understand that their crackdowns merely make things worse for dancers. “You want to be treated like other workers,” Councilmember Head told one speaker at the club cap hearing in March. Then she asked why dancers weren’t fighting the clubs when they didn’t respect their rights, like by offering workers’ compensation. “That is something you should be fighting for.”

“We don’t have any time to fight for this,” the speaker responded, “because we are here fighting you.”

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A Florida Sheriff’s Dramatic Drug Raid Went Viral, But It Wasn’t What It Seemed

In the ‘fentanyl’ bust at a ‘narcotics house,’ no opioids were seized at all.

A Florida Sheriff’s Dramatic Drug Raid Went Viral, But It Wasn’t What It Seemed

In the ‘fentanyl’ bust at a ‘narcotics house,’ no opioids were seized at all.


Sheriff Darryl Daniels of Clay County, Florida, is positioning himself as a social media celebrity in the ongoing war on opioids. In January, Daniels’s office filmed the aftermath of a SWAT raid that he and masked officers  carried out on a so-called narcotics house on a tree-lined suburban street in Orange Park, Florida. The video documenting the raid—in what the sheriff dubbed “Operation: You Were Warned”—went viral, garnering 30,000 shares and 3.4 million views on Facebook.

The raid video opens by panning over a line of young people handcuffed on the curb. The camera then moves to a group of officers, wearing helmets and backed up by two armored cars. The video finds Sheriff Daniels, who announces to the viewer that criminals must leave his county or face the consequences. The camera follows him to the house, briefly focusing on a broken window before Daniels opens the door. Standing in the raided home, Daniels takes a large swig of his morning cup of coffee and declares, “Fifteen going to jail, three big gulps.”

Despite the sheriff’s announcement, the “raid” resulted in only five adult arrests and one juvenile arrest, according to Elaine Brown, a lead records specialist at the sheriff’s office. According to police records reviewed by The Appeal, the drug seizures from this “narcotics house” were fairly small scale and did not include opioids. In an email to The Appeal, Sgt. Keith Smith, an office  spokesman, clarified that during the the raid, narcotics deputies found what they believed to be 1.2 grams of heroin and fentanyl after an initial field test, but subsequent tests revealed the seizure was not a controlled substance.

Police actually nabbed most of the suspects for marijuana, of which they found less than two ounces during the raid. Of the five adult arrest reports, four indicated  marijuana possession, with three charged for drug equipment. Two of the individuals charged for marijuana had less than 20 grams, according to the documents. The fifth suspect was nabbed for positive field tests of MDMA and a few grams of cocaine. It is not known what substances, if any, were mentioned in the sixth arrest report, which was not released because the subject was a juvenile.

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to The Appeal‘s inquiries about whether the department considered issuing public corrections about the initial arrest figures and drug seizures posted on Facebook. The department also did not respond to questions about the decision to film the aftermath of the operation and about their use of armored vehicles.

One former Clay County sheriff’s deputy, who requested anonymity citing concerns over police harassment, told The Appeal in a phone call that he wasn’t surprised that the operation didn’t turn up opioids. “Of course they didn’t, there never was any,” he said. Asked about the errant initial field test, the former deputy pointed out that “false drug findings on site happen all the time.”

“The really good ones cost money, but those take away your probable cause,” he said, referring to arrests and police searches for which error-prone drug test field kits can provide legal pretext. “It’s probably the cheapest ones they could get to do the minimum standards for an investigation.” Clay County Sheriff’s Office spokersperson Keith Smith said that the department recently acquired field kits from a Florida company called MEDTECH Forensics, but did not confirm whether these devices specifically were used during the January 5th drug bust.

The former deputy also argued that the marijuana charges were overkill. According to sheriff’s office documents reviewed by The Appeal, 34.8 grams of marijuana were found in the house, yet two individuals arrested in the house were charged with possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana.

The drug quantities found suggest the raid targeted a house of small-time users, not major traffickers, Joe Frank Martinez, a border sheriff in Val Verde County, Texas, said in a phone interview with The Appeal. “This would probably would be personal use,” said Martinez. “If you’re talking about ounces, that’d be users.”

Martinez added that in his jurisdiction, SWAT teams and armored vehicles would not be used for low-level users, unless police had clear reason to believe there was a threat at hand. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office Facebook post about the raid justified the need for the “safety equipment” citing past reports of shots being fired and fights taking place at the house. In addition to the use of armored vehicles and SWAT team personnel, four flashbang grenades were used during the raid, despite the fact no guns or other weapons were found during the operation, according to police records reviewed by The Appeal.

Individuals swept up in the raid argued that Daniels’s public presentation of their home as a drug house was overblown and complained about what they perceived as intrusions on their privacy. “I don’t understand why they have to take camera footage of my house,” said one young man, who told News4Jax that he was facing charges.

This raid is not Daniels’s first success, at least in terms of social media publicity. Last summer, Daniels shared another video of himself describing the aftermath of what he called another narcotics operation in which he issued his trademark warning to criminals and gulped down a thermos of coffee.

Through such highly publicized operations, Daniels has jumped into the national spotlight as a drug warrior. At a press conference last year, he announced homicide charges were being brought against a drug dealer whose client had overdosed after taking fentanyl, according to the Florida Times Union. Daniels appeared on HLN, a CNN-affiliated national news network, to discuss the case and his department announced that its detectives would investigate all 49 overdose deaths from 2016 as homicides. Since his election in 2016, the office’s drug-related arrests have increased.

These public appearances have attracted significant publicity from local press and media. But some locals express skepticism about the sheriff’s frequent attempts to stay in the spotlight. The former Clay County deputy called the raids “a damn joke.”

“He’s creating a self-aggrandizing mythology,” said the former deputy. “It’s all choreographed—such a chicken shit bust, instead of the MRAPs [military vehicles] and a SWAT team, they could have used two deputies for that.”

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