Stephon Alexander arrested in sting

by Paulomi Rao | 1/14/16 9:55pm

Associate professor of physics and astronomy Stephon Alexander was arrested Dec. 17 after being charged with procurement of sexual conduct for a fee. A motion to expunge is scheduled for Jan. 25. Alexander is on voluntary unpaid leave, according to a statement released by Diana Lawrence, director of media relations at Dartmouth.

Alexander and six additional men faced charges after police in Coventry, Rhode Island and nearby West Greenwich created a sting operation by placing advertisements for sex on Backpage.com, a classified advertising website similar to Craigslist.

A press release issued by the Town of Coventry Police department stated, “Operation ‘Front Page’ was an undercover operation designed to bring the blight of human trafficking from the secretive world of ‘back page’ to the ‘front page’ to expose this crime in our local community.”

According to the press release, police created the task force after discovering women only 14 years of age were being advertised as escorts on web pages similar to Backpage. To target traffickers, police created a fake escort ad in the adult entertainment section of the website. Soon after, Alexander allegedly responded to a motel setup and was arrested after offering money for sex to undercover female officers.

“What was once known as an urban crime issue is now widely recognized as a crime on the rise in every community with the advent of mobile, online solicitation activities,” the press release read.

In Providence, similar sting units resulted in the arrests of 42 men in 2015. Together with the Providence police and federal agents in Homeland Security, the Rhode Island Human Trafficking Task Force set out to reduce incidents. The release also said that the police are working to send messages to local residents that units are carefully monitoring human trafficking and are working promptly to limit illegal solicitation on the internet.

New Hampshire criminal defense lawyer Roger Chadwick said in cases similar to Alexander’s, courts go through normal procedures of granting bail and selecting processing dates based on the nature of the charge. In New Hampshire, a pre-trial conference is held to determine the logistics but prior to that, Chadwick said the prosecutor must share any physical evidence that was seized to the defense attorney.

“In Rhode Island, solicitation for prostitution is a misdemeanor,” West Greenwich police Chief Richard Ramsay said. “The most anyone can face is a year in prison or a $1,000 fine to victim’s services.”

Similar police units have been formed in New Hampshire to combat incidents involving illegal solicitation.

“There are task forces created to keep an eye on what’s happening online,” Chadwick, recipient of the Attorney General’s Cyberspace Prosecutor of the Year in 2006, said. “The trial is going to happen, the process is going to happen, and we have our Constitution that puts processes in place.”

Alexander’s arrest follows the Sept. 4 arrest of African and African American studies English professor J. Martin Favor for five felony child pornography charges. A task force dedicated to ending internet crimes, one very similar to that which brought accusations against Alexander, was responsible for the investigation leading to Favor’s arrest. Favor had been a professor at the College for 22 years and formerly chaired the African and African American studies program. He was placed on paid leave and prohibited from campus.

Similar arrests also emerged across colleges and universities throughout the country last year. University of Central Arkansas economics professor Noel Campbell was arrested in April for his use of child pornography on campus.

Earlier this fall, he had a court hearing for 301 felony child pornography counts. Campbell was placed on paid leave and barred from campus. Two weeks later, he left his teaching position.

In New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence serves to assist survivors, some whom have been involved in human trafficking incidents.

In 2014, the total number of individuals served by the crisis center was 13,457. Of those, 1,705 victims came to the coalition for sexual violence related reasons. The center — which assists all of New Hampshire — offers services that range from a 24/7 anonymous hotline to shelters with support services for people who need a safe place to go outside of their own homes. Additionally, the shelters provide support groups to assist in finding transitional housing, filing restraining orders, and offering court advocacy, community relations director at the New Hampshire Coalition Maureen McDonalds said.

“A lot of times people just need a support system to be there and to listen at any time of day,” McDonalds said. “It’s helpful just to hear them and help them process what they are going through,”

In addition, the shelter does financial literacy work and offers other resources that allow survivors to get to a mental state where they feel supported.

Alexander and associate dean of faculty for the sciences David Kotz did not respond to request for comment by press time. Kotz is on the steering committee for the E.E. Just program where Alexander served as director.