The Flagstaff police chief has been placed on administrative leave pending an independent investigation into how the department conducted an undercover operation in 2019 that targeted massage parlors, city officials confirmed Thursday.
Dan Musselman has been the city’s police chief since late 2020 and first joined the department in 1995. The city said placing him on leave is not a disciplinary action.
Phoenix TV station ABC15 first reporting on the action, citing an email Musselman sent to staff saying he would be on leave starting Aug. 1. The city did not immediately respond to a request Thursday for a copy of the email.
The outside investigation is expected to take a few weeks, the TV station reported. Deputy Chief Scott Mansfield is serving as acting police chief in the meantime.
City spokeswoman Sarah Langley said Thursday that the review will not target individuals officers involved in the 2019 undercover operation.
“The purpose of the review is to determine what policies and methodologies could be used, as best practices, in future operations should they occur,” she said in an email.
ABC15 reported last month that two Flagstaff police officers went undercover to massage parlors, took off their pants and allowed themselves to be touched sexually as part of an investigation into suspected human trafficking, sex trafficking and prostitution.
Flagstaff city officials have said there was nothing illegal about the officers’ conduct, and Musselman has defended their actions. A call to Musselman’s office at the police department went unanswered Thursday, and he doesn’t have a publicly listed personal phone number.
Defense attorneys, law enforcement experts and others have criticized the operation, saying that officers violated state law and that the investigation raises ethical issues.
Other police agencies have conducted similar undercover operations.
An investigation published in 2020 by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University found that federal undercover agents repeatedly paid for and engaged in sex acts with suspected victims in western Arizona.
In 2004, the Maricopa County prosecutor’s office rejected about 60 prostitution cases from the sheriff’s department because a half dozen deputies and posse members engaged in nudity and sexual contact during a prostitution sting.