Spokane Valley detectives have arrested a man suspected of kidnapping and raping a woman at gunpoint in a secluded area off Interstate 90 earlier this year.
After coming up empty in a search for matching DNA, the detectives scoured thousands of cellphone records to identify the suspect, 46-year-old Steven B. Pallett, who was booked into the Spokane County Jail on Thursday afternoon. Pallett reportedly has a history of threatening people with guns and committing violence against prostitutes working on East Sprague Avenue.
The woman first reported the rape to a motorist she flagged down from the side of the freeway on the night of March 18. Shaken and barefoot, she had run across a gravel parking lot and hopped a fence to summon help. The motorist called 911, and a state trooper was the first to respond.
The woman initially told detectives from Spokane Valley’s sexual assault unit that she had been walking to a downtown motel when a man stopped to offer her a ride. She later admitted she had been working as a prostitute when she got into the man’s car near Sprague and Hatch Street.
Once in the car, which she described as a tan or silver Chevy Cavalier from the early 2000s, the man grabbed her cellphone from her hand, tossed it in the back seat and began threatening her and ordering her to remove items of clothing, she told detectives.
The man pulled off the freeway at the Argonne Road exit and stopped the car in Mission Park. The woman said he held a black pistol to her right temple while forcing her to perform oral sex under an A-frame structure between the park and the freeway. It was dark, except for lights from passing cars, and there were no other cars parked in the vicinity, she told detectives.
The man later got into the car and drove away, with the woman’s phone still in the back seat, she told detectives. She described him as a white man in his 40s with a goatee, mustache and shoulder-length straight brown hair, but under the glare of passing headlights she couldn’t make out his license plate number.
The woman was taken by ambulance to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for a sexual assault examination. According to court documents, DNA collected from her mouth, neck and fingers did not match any profile in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a database that contains the genetic profiles of millions of criminals and arrestees.
The detectives obtained a warrant and asked four phone service carriers to provide a list of phone numbers that had interacted with cell towers between 8:40 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. near Sprague and Hatch, where the woman was picked up, and near Mission Park, where the crime occurred.
Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile provided more than 17,000 numbers, along with the times they pinged the cell towers, but no information directly connecting the phones with their owners, according to court documents. The detectives systematically eliminated numbers that hadn’t been pinged at both locations and weren’t associated with men meeting the victim’s description, leaving only 17 options.
Based on the victim’s description, Pallett’s license photo stood out, according to court documents. He happened to own a silver 2001 Chevy Cavalier, and a Sheriff’s Office database showed he had repeatedly pawned a .40-caliber handgun like the one the victim described, according to court documents.
Facebook pages that appear to belong to Pallett show he’s a fan of rock music and has played in a band at local bars. Detectives noted that his car radio was tuned to 94.5FM, a local rock station.
And previous reports suggest Pallett was a likely culprit.
In August 2011, Child Protection Services reported Pallett and his wife were suspected of running a prostitution ring out of their north Spokane home and had tried to recruit their 18-year-old cousin to work for them. CPS also reported allegations that Pallett and his wife had molested their toddler daughter.
That October, an admitted prostitute told police she had been on a “bad date” with Pallett, saying, “This guy Steve Pallett is ripping off girls out here, beating them up and threatening them,” according to court documents.
In November 2014, another prostitute told an officer that a man had agreed to pay her $100 for sex but instead drove her to the Walmart in Spokane Valley, assaulted her in the family restroom and gave her only $8. “I just want something to be done about this guy,” she said. “This guy will kill one of the girls.” She gave the officer the license plate number for the white van the man had been driving. It was registered to Pallett.
In December 2015, Waste Management reported Pallett had called their office, threatening to force employees to pick up his trash at gunpoint. His garbage collection had been “suspended for non-payment,” according to court documents.
And in April this year, a resident of a Spokane Valley mobile home park reported that his neighbor, Pallett, had threatened to shoot him during an argument. Pallett has lived at several addresses in Spokane and Spokane Valley in recent years.
None of those reports resulted in an arrest.
During an interview Thursday with Detective Brandon Armstrong, who led the recent investigation, Pallett admitted he had been on many “dates” with prostitutes, including the one accusing him of rape, and that he usually had his gun with him, according to court documents. He said he liked to act “bossy” and never intended to pay the women any agreed-upon prices for sex acts.
Pallett is being held on a $500,000 bond. He faces charges of first-degree rape and first-degree kidnapping.
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