Dee Curry has been an outspoken advocate for transgender rights in the District of Columbia for many years and has appeared as a speaker at numerous LGBT events. Earlier this year, the mayor’s office appointed her to serve on a newly created city advisory committee on street harassment.
Curry was scheduled to testify on Wednesday, March 27, before the City Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety to discuss priorities as she sees them for the D.C. Police Department’s fiscal year 2020 budget.
With that as a backdrop, Curry, 64, said she has decided to publicly disclose that she was arrested on Feb. 8 on a charge of misdemeanor solicitation for prostitution as part of a D.C. police “sting” operation.
She said she considers the police tactics used to arrest her as a form of entrapment that she feels the LGBT community and the public at large should view as a misuse of police resources to target commercial sex workers, especially trans sex workers.
D.C. police spokesperson Alaina Gertz said the department cannot comment on the specific circumstances surrounding Curry’s arrest because it is a pending case. But she said the department’s enforcement efforts do not target any specific population.
“We respond to citizen and community complaints and focus our attention in the geographic areas where those complaints are located,” Gertz told the Blade in an email.
Curry said her arrest involved an undercover D.C. police officer who posed as an Uber driver and who invited her into his car, leading her to believe he could drive her home at a time when she needed a ride.
She said she had just finished visiting her godmother, who lives in a house on a side street off of a section of West Virginia Avenue, N.E., next to the campus of Gallaudet University. The area is known as a location where transgender sex workers congregate.
Curry acknowledges having been arrested for sex work in the past but said she has changed the direction of her life and “absolutely” was not soliciting at the time of her arrest on Feb. 8.
“I was walking and he drove past me,” she said. “And then he turned around and he beckoned me to come to his car. I said I didn’t call for an Uber and he said that’s OK, and I got in the backseat,” Curry told the Blade.
“And he proceeded and I told him where I was living and when he turned the corner he said you know that’s a little too far for me because all my calls come from this area,” Curry recounted.
“I said can you take me a little closer to where I live? And he said I really picked you up because I wanted a blowjob for $30 and we can park in one of these parking spaces. He said we could park by a school,” Curry quoted him as saying.
“I said no you’re not, not with me,” she continued. “And that’s when the police came.”
When asked by the Blade if she might have said something to the officer that he interpreted as her consenting to his offer, Curry said she did not think so.
“I don’t recall saying yes,” she said. “It was cold that night. I probably said well we could talk about that. Give me a ride home. I might have tried to con him out of a ride home,” Curry said. “I may have given him some indication that I might participate in some shit like that.”
But Curry added, “That doesn’t take away the fact that this man was egregiously masquerading as an Uber driver. I would have never gotten in his car. That’s my point,” she said in characterizing the encounter as a form of entrapment.
The arrest affidavit filed in court by police identifies the driver as undercover officer D. Eley and says he’s a member of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit. It says the unit was “conducting an undercover prostitution operation in reference to complaints of prostitution activity in the area.”
The affidavit gives no indication that sex trafficking was occurring in the area where the undercover operation took place. When the Blade asked police spokesperson Gertz why the Human Trafficking Unit was dispatched to the area she sent a response by email.
“Deployment of MPD’s Human Trafficking Unit is based on requests from district commanders and complaints that are sent directly to the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division (NSID) about prostitution activity,” she said. “Those complaints come from residents and citizens of D.C.”
The affidavit provides a short transcript of what it says was a conversation between the undercover officer and “Defendant 1,” who was later identified as Curry.
“Hey baby get in,” it quotes the officer as saying. “Hey, I’m trying to make some money,” it quotes Defendant 1 as saying. “You driving for Uber tonight?” it quotes Defendant 1 as saying.
“Yeah,” the transcript quotes the officer as saying. “I want something real quick while I’m on a break. I want some head. Is $30 good for you? For some head,” the officer is quoted as saying.
“Yeah, $30 is good,” it says Defendant 1 replied. “Okay baby,” the officer is quoted as saying.
The affidavit then states, “Undercover Ofc. D. Eley gave a prearranged signal for the arrest team to move in and apprehended D 1. D 1 was stopped and placed under arrest for solicitation for prostitution. D 1 was transported to the 5th District for processing.”
Curry disputes the quotes that the transcript attributes to her.
Court records show that Curry was released on the night of her arrest after being processed and given a citation ordering her to appear in court on March 12 for an arraignment. At that time she pleaded not guilty to the charge through a court appointed lawyer and was instructed to return to court on April 9 for a preliminary hearing.
D.C. attorney Dale Edwin Sanders, who has practiced criminal law in D.C. and Virginia, said an entrapment defense is difficult to prove because courts have ruled that police tactics similar to those used in Curry’s arrest are legal if there is evidence that the person arrested had a “predisposition” for engaging in an illegal activity such as prostitution.
“The government will argue that all they’ve done is to provide an opportunity for the defendant to commit a crime that they were predisposed to commit,” Sanders said. “If the government does more than provide the opportunity but rather is the initiator and the aggressor and overcomes or infringes or compromises the defendant’s will resist the overture of the government, then that would be entrapment,” he said.
Curry said she decided to stop engaging in commercial sex work after a previous arrest in 2011 in which she said she was similarly entrapped by an undercover police officer on a charge of sexual solicitation. Court records show that Curry was found not guilty of the charge by a judge in a non-jury trial in August 2011.
D.C. Police Lt. Brett Parson, who oversees the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, has said the department aggressively investigates hate crimes and other crimes targeting the transgender community and the LGBT community as a whole.
Parson told the Blade on Wednesday that his response to Dee Curry’s allegation of entrapment and misuse of police resources on prostitution arrests would be the same response offered by police spokesperson Gertz. Because it’s an open case, he said, he has no further comment on the specifics of the arrest.
He said the department’s deployment of officers for these types of arrests is based on citizen complaints, and that determines the areas where the arrests are made.
“And as far as the allegation of a false arrest, we trust the criminal justice system, and if it’s a false arrest I’m sure she’ll make that defense,” Parson said.
Curry’s latest arrest came less than a month before the International Lesbian and Gay Association announced it has joined a growing number of U.S. and international LGBT rights organizations in calling for the decriminalization of sex work between consenting adults. An increasing number of mainline human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have also called for decriminalizing sex work between adults.
Locally, several LGBT rights groups, including the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, have endorsed a bill introduced in 2017 by D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) calling for decriminalizing sex work among consenting adults in the District. Grosso’s bill died in committee last year, but his office says he plans to reintroduce it this year with some changes that supporters hope will boost its chances for passing.
Curry said she wants to publicize her arrest as a means of drawing attention to what she believes is a misguided policy by D.C. police and some in the community to address the issue of commercial sex work through arrests.
She noted that when the undercover officer posing as the Uber driver gave the signal, three or four police cars with flashing lights and sirens rushed to the scene, with at least two officers in each of the cars, to arrest her. In thinking back on how her arrest unfolded Curry said she believes the half dozen or more officers involved in her misdemeanor prostitution arrest could have been better utilized to address the city’s growing problem of violent crime.
“The interesting thing for me is we have so many unsolved cold cases involving LGBTQ individuals,” she said. “We have this uptick in gun violence and murders in this city. And to me, and this is my opinion but I’m almost certain it will be shown when we get the data, the most successful crime fighting force in this city is the vice unit against prostitution,” Curry said. “And that’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Last year, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham declined a request by Council member Grosso that D.C. police temporarily suspend making arrests of sex workers involved in commercial sex between consenting adults.
In response to a question from the Blade at a public appearance last year, Newsham said the department has sufficient resources to make prostitution related arrests and to address violent crime throughout the city.