ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. – A Palatka Police Department detective was among 14 arrested last week on charges of solicitation of prostitution in St. Johns County.
Reno Fells, 48, was immediately put on administrative leave with pay following his arrest Friday night in a sting called Operation Summer Lovin', and he resigned Sunday, according to the Police Department.
Fells worked for Palatka police from 1997 to 2011, when he resigned as chief of operations to run for Putnam County sheriff. He lost that bid and then returned to the department in 2013.
News4Jax interviewed Fells in 2012 about how he planned to tackle crime if he were elected as sheriff of Putnam County.
"I'm an old athlete. I look at the way we do business from a sporting perspective," he said. "If you don't have a good game plan with strategies, with goals and objectives to win, you probably won't win and you will continue to get what you have been getting. What I am going to bring to this is a strategic focus of policing and management of the Sheriff's Office."
Assistant Chief James Griffith said the Police Department had never had any problems with him.
"We were shocked and disappointed," he said.
Fells and 13 others were arrested at an undisclosed motel in St. Johns County in a sting that targeted men and women soliciting sex or offering sexual favors in return for monetary compensation by advertising on a social media site, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office.
"Reno had reached out to, through this Internet site, and the conversations with what he thought was a female that was trying to sell herself," said St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar.
The 13 others arrested were Covoz Byrd, 31; Sarah Jackson, 28; Heather Eaton, 31; Melissa Parker, 37; Kelly Swinehart, 37; Brandy Cannon, 23; Nicholai Gardner, 22; Anthony Pacetti, 31; Lemuel Jackson, 47; William Barron, 45; Charmas Johnson, 41; Jacob Hardy, 19; and Michael Pritchard, 57.
The Sheriff's Office and the St. Augustine Beach Police Department conducted the undercover operation last Wednesday through Saturday. Deputies said both agencies have received numerous complaints recently in regards to the activity being facilitated on social media sites and at local establishments.
Undercover detectives were used to place and respond to ads on a social media site, similar to those of real people advertising for suspected prostitution, in attempts to get them to respond to the ads, according to the Sheriff's Office. Investigators said the prices for services were anywhere from $80 to several hundred dollars.
"We've got everything from 19-, 20-year-old kids with no criminal histories that are out there," Sheriff David Shoar said. "They are not evil people. They are just experimenting, whatever you want to call it. All the way up to people that have been in prison for homicides and sexual assaults. So it is a dangerous world. It is very high-risk behavior for anyone to be involved in."
Those arrested were charged with prostitution or procure for prostitution, and received bonds ranging from $500 to no bond for a probation violation. Most have been released on bond, including Fells.