For outstanding work on a recent sexual exploitation case with multiple victims, Det. Natalie D’Amico was presented today with a formal recognition from FBI Director Christopher Wray by Special Agent in Charge Jay Tabb of FBI Seattle in November 2017. Photo courtesy of the Redmond Police Department.

For outstanding work on a recent sexual exploitation case with multiple victims, Det. Natalie D’Amico was presented today with a formal recognition from FBI Director Christopher Wray by Special Agent in Charge Jay Tabb of FBI Seattle in November 2017. Photo courtesy of the Redmond Police Department.

FBI recognizes Redmond police detective for devotion to duty in sex trafficking case.

FBI recognizes Redmond detective for devotion to duty in sex trafficking case.

  • Tuesday, June 26, 2018 4:50pm
  • News

By Olivia Madewell

UW News Lab

David Delay was sentenced to 33 years in prison for 17 federal felonies on April 12, over three years after the Redmond Police Department began its lengthy investigation of his involvement in sex trafficking, extortion and the creation and possession of child pornography.

The initial report to the police back in November of 2014 looked like a case of cyberbullying and could have easily been overlooked – it almost was – but RPD Officer Leah Ott could tell something wasn’t right.

Ott was working as a patrol officer when she first had contact with the victim, referred to in many documents as M.K. , who had visited the department twice in her attempts to get help in the case she believed was bullying before meeting Ott. M.K. reported someone hacking her Facebook page, posting compromising photos of her and refusing to remove them. The first two officers the victim spoke with advised that it was a civil issue and that police couldn’t do anything, according to police documents.

On M.K.’s third visit, Ott responded to her plea for help. The two sat down in an interview room where Ott quickly realized that there was more to the story.

“She kept mentioning her ex-girlfriend and saying, ‘She said she’d do this to me,’” Ott said. “I realized that we were now talking about a case of extortion.”

After the interview, Ott researched the names M.K. had provided: David Delay and Marysa Comer. The RPD already had Delay in the system for a child pornography report about a decade before. Because that case had occurred in Edmonds, though reported in Redmond, it was forwarded to the Edmonds Police Department for investigation. According to M.K., after meeting Comer online, she seduced M.K. and eventually invited her to move into the apartment she shared with Delay.

Though cyberbullying is relatively common, with many reported in a given week, Ott passed the report on to detectives. The then-18-year-old victim had online accounts hacked and explicit photos of her posted on Facebook by Delay and his accomplice, Comer. Ott saw grounds for a search warrant for the Facebook account so that the department could follow through on the report.

Ott suspected that M.K. had experienced more abuse at Delay’s hands than she had let on. At this point, Ott submitted the case for investigation. She gave Detective Natalie D’Amico, who primarily works cases of child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence or sexual assault, a heads-up.

“A patrol officer had approached me on my way out and said, ‘Hey, there’s a case I think may be coming your way. I just met with the victim in the lobby, and it’s going to require search warrants to Facebook.’” D’Amico recalled.

D’Amico spoke to her supervisor about it the following work day. The case was coming her way. She and Ott together asked M.K. to leave the Facebook page active long enough for them to secure a warrant and trace the IP address.

At this point, Ott continued her patrol work while detectives investigated the case. Until testifying at Delay’s and Comer’s trials, Ott had no further involvement in the case.

For D’Amico, though, the work had just begun. The first step for the detective was to contact the victim, let them know they’ve been assigned and set up a more in-depth interview.

She said a lot more detail came out when D’Amico met with M.K. – including things even M.K.’s mother hadn’t heard yet. M.K.’s victim statement cracked the case wide open, according to D’Amico. That day, the department knew the situation was more than an isolated incident.

Her statement provided names of other victims, including a phone number. That same day, D’Amico began following up on the names of the other victims, finding those individuals, and uncovering more of the story. Some of the names M.K. provided turned up prostitution ads, not just locally but in other cities.

“I knew that same day, ‘OK, this is more than just an isolated Redmond incident,’” D’Amico said. “I was immediately blown away.”

As the days went by, police kept discovering more. They began reaching out to the FBI over the next several weeks.

FBI involvement isn’t as simple as saying they have a case to hand off. D’Amico said they have to work it as far as they can to show elements that meet FBI requirements for taking a case.

After the victim’s report, the detective had to build the case, further investigate and corroborate evidence before charges could be filed. From here, it went in a lot of different directions, even involving possession and creation of child pornography and manipulation of the victims. Part of the situation involved advertisements for sex work that crossed state lines. D’Amico’s reaction was quite simply, “Oh, my gosh…” – because they had no idea how huge M.K.’s instance of possible extortion would turn out to be.

Search warrants for backpage.com and an associated email address, which would then reveal far more communication, could take weeks. Other victim statements were difficult to obtain, with many individuals out of state or having new phone numbers, among other challenges.

A search warrant for Delay’s Lynnwood apartment allowed the RPD to recover a lot of items, a list of which they left at the apartment with a copy of the search warrant. D’Amico said Delay definitely knew they would be coming and could tamper with the evidence easily. For instance, he knew that if he wasn’t at the apartment, they couldn’t access his personal phone.

In December 2014, Delay turned himself in to the police department with his attorney, but his bail was soon posted. With more details provided in the following days, the judge issued two warrants for Delay’s arrest. D’Amico and three FBI Seattle officers, along with officers from the Port of Seattle, arrested Delay as he disembarked from a plane at SeaTac airport in January 2015.

At the time of this arrest, Delay did have his phone, which aided the investigation greatly.

Comer was also arrested. Both Delay and Comer had charges filed on them in King County and were at the King County Jail.

After an initial booking into jail, police legally have 72 hours to recommend charges to a prosecutor or the suspect will be released. D’Amico said this requires hard, fast work on their part.

The RPD still needed subpoenas and search warrants from the court for evidence, such as thousands of emails, each of which would lead to the others. Only 15 to 16 warrants were issued before the FBI became involved, which reflects the strong degree of cooperation that there was between the RPD and federal government. Each of these warrants required affidavits and proof of both connection to the case and probable cause for investigation. The process is long and slow with thorough documentation of every tiny step.

Federal involvement in the case wasn’t official until around April 2015. FBI Special Agent Ingrid Arbuthnot-Stohl became D’Amico’s colleague throughout the rest of the case. D’Amico said the two of them worked really well together, in a relationship that could make or break the entire case. She said the two were in constant communication about every detail and split the work, with Arbuthnot-Stohl covering more of the electronic and email side of the investigation.

“I never stepped back once they adopted the case,” D’Amico said. “It was her and I together working on it the entire time.”

FBI involvement wasn’t easy to obtain, according to D’Amico. She said Redmond police had to prove that FBI involvement was necessary, largely by the crossing of state lines in advertisements and even in sex trafficking itself.

D’Amico said an average investigation will last at least a few months, with the time from report to trial taking at least a full year. Delay’s trial wasn’t until the fall of 2015, though that was postponed repeatedly through Delay changing attorneys and because one attorney had to have surgery.

Delay fought the process the entire way, according to D’Amico. Each time Delay tried to contact any of the victims, they had to look into it. He claimed he was being framed and never did any of it – a lie D’Amico believes will never stop. He appealed the case extremely early on in the process. He personally attacked D’Amico, being the first visible face of the law enforcement involved.

Delay had a Facebook page run by his family that attacked her and made it appear that he genuinely wanted to help his victims. He petitioned for D’Amico’s firing, claiming she was a corrupt cop and even coining the nickname Detective “Dirty” D’Amico. Even the prosecutor and judge were targeted before the trial.

Part of what got D’Amico through the painstaking process was her commitment to the truth despite the amount of lies against it. She said she had to also keep perspective and still live her life, despite the fact that a case like Delay’s could be all-consuming.

“I became really passionate about this case because the longer I worked on it, the more you get into it,” D’Amico said. “A lot of cases don’t take this long or last this long. Then with the victims, obviously they’re extremely emotional about this. This has happened to them, and they’re invested.”

D’Amico got married in 2015, and Arbuthnot-Stohl had a baby. The two helped each other, talking and venting when necessary, and bouncing ideas off each other. The prosecutor, too, was part of a tight-knit support group throughout the case.

The fact that the investigators knew each other and knew that Delay’s MO was extortion, blackmail and control didn’t necessarily make it easier, though.

Though six victims, two underage at the time, were brave enough to testify in court repeatedly and three more victims were questioned by the police, these counted for the only the victims involved in sex trafficking, not including the manipulation of mothers in the child pornography side of Delay’s crimes.

D’Amico praised the victims’ determination, not backing down, not intimidated by Delay. She said they were hard and wanted to follow it through to completion, have their say and find closure in doing all they could to not allow him to walk free.

D’Amico said it was frustrating to have all the hard work questioned and be able to do nothing but sit back and wait for the trial. She said it was scary to know that he could walk, despite all of the evidence that they had gathered against him. Even in the sentencing in April, D’Amico said it was hard to entertain the possibility that Delay might have been found not guilty when she knew the truth. She said she’s still not sure what will come of Delay’s appeal, but her part investigating the matter is over.

“In a sense, I have a great deal of closure,” D’Amico said. “But I also know that for him this will never be over.”

While D’Amico was able to maintain professional relationships with the victims to support them throughout the entire process, Officer Ott, too, played a huge role in the victims’ lives by beginning the entire process.

“I still run into the victim pretty frequently in Redmond and she always runs up and gives me a hug,” Ott said. “It’s a really nice feeling after all the training we do, to have a hunch pan out and really help someone who was being victimized. I am just glad that ultimately justice was served.”

A photo of David Delay that was used as evidence in the case. Delay was sentenced to 33 years in prison for 17 federal felonies on April 12. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington

A photo of David Delay that was used as evidence in the case. Delay was sentenced to 33 years in prison for 17 federal felonies on April 12. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington

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