A white woman, wearing a too-tight leopard print shirt and cut-off jean shorts, is loitering outside the Mystik gas station on Jackson Avenue. As a tan car pulls up and rolls down the passenger-side window, the woman leans in and mouths something to the male driver.
Then, she opens the passenger door and nonchalantly hops in. As she closes the door, the car pulls toward a side street. Suddenly, a menacing unmarked, black Dodge Charger swoops out of nowhere, interior blue lights flashing. The undercover officer pulls the tan car over, but instead of heading for the driver side window, he goes straight to the passenger side.
The officer opens the door and pulls the woman to her feet. He immediately slaps plastic cuffs on her wrists and leads her to the back seat of his unmarked car. Little did she know, the driver of the tan car was actually an undercover officer wearing a wire. When she made the offer for her sexual services, other officers were listening in and waiting to pounce.
I'm watching all the action from the back seat of another unmarked police car, driven by public affairs officer Monique Martin. Martin's "media car" is following unmarked cars around sketchy areas in the neighborhood of Jackson Avenue, Chelsea Avenue, and Hollywood Street.
Memphis Police Organized Crime Unit officers spent Thursday morning seeking out known prostitutes during Operation Fallen Angel, an undercover investigation targeting prostitutes and pimps. At press time, the MPD had made 60 probable cause arrests for prostitution, indecent exposure, and drug charges.
After the leopard-print hooker is hauled away in cuffs, Martin leads us through several other neighborhoods where we watch young and middle-aged black and white women hop into the undercover cars, unknowingly putting themselves right into the hands of law enforcement.
The women are transported under a bridge off Jackson Avenue near Velsicol where the Blue Crush paddy wagon awaits their arrival. Inside the police transport van, women are locked inside makeshift cells that conceal their entire bodies. Only the sequined orange sandals and mesh green house slippers stick out. The locked-up women curse and scream while TV news crews shine cameras on their exposed toes.
Though 60 people were arrested today, Operation Fallen Angel has been underway since late February. On Wednesday, the Memphis Police announced the arrests for 64 individuals in the prostitution sting, 55 of which are being charged with patronizing prostitutions. Two of the individuals arrested in Wednesday's sting were on-duty Memphis, Light, Gas, and Water employees. Another man solicited a prostitute while his seven-year-old daughter waited in the car.
--by Bianca Phillips