Christopher Foster, home asleep at 4 a.m. on May 23, 2012, got an unexpected wake-up call.
“I heard a loud bang,” he said. “There were some guys with tactical gear, ski masks, automatic weapons. They were pointing their guns at me.”
He and three others in the Spokane Valley home were handcuffed and told they were under arrest for human trafficking.
A detective quizzed him about the accusations.
“I had no clue what he was talking about,” Foster said.
Foster was arrested with his then-girlfriend Shanell L. Haddon as well as Lawrence D. Johnson and his wife, Dina K. Tellez.
No charges were ever filed against the four, and now they have filed a lawsuit in federal court against Spokane County and two sheriff’s deputies alleging unlawful arrest, false arrest, defamation and negligence.
The raid on the home at 13520 E. Nora Ave. was based on the report of a woman who told police that she had been held against her will and forced into prostitution by the four. She also told police that other women were being held in the basement of the home. According to the lawsuit, no evidence supporting the woman’s claims was found during the raid.
The arrests were widely publicized as potentially the first human trafficking case in Spokane County.
Foster said he knew the woman who made the accusations: He and his girlfriend baby-sat for her a couple of times. But he doesn’t know why the woman told the police what she did.
“None of it is true,” he said.
Foster acknowledged that he and two of the other three plaintiffs have criminal convictions dating back decades, including burglary, theft, car theft and possession of stolen property. Tellez served time for possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, while Johnson has only traffic infractions and a charge of obstructing a police officer on his record. But Foster said their history shouldn’t affect the lawsuit, and none are facing current charges.
“All that has nothing to do with this case and what they did to us,” he said. “You just can’t go out in the world and start accusing people of stuff they didn’t do.”
Foster filed the lawsuit to set the record straight, he said. “I’m not a human trafficker,” he said. “I’m not a rapist and I didn’t kidnap anybody. This is never going to go away. It’s all over the Internet.”
Foster said they were all asked to move out of their rental home, and Johnson lost his job over the publicity surrounding their arrest.
Attorney Richard Wall took their unusual case and said the decision was made to limit it to Spokane County and the deputies rather than the woman who made the initial accusation. The Sheriff’s Office should have done more investigation before breaking down their front door, he said.
“She’s not the one to blame,” Wall said. “It’s the police who came to this house and arrested these people and publicly accused them. If the police had done their job, it would have gone no further.”
Spokane County spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter said it is county policy to not comment on pending lawsuits.