Originally Published: June 9, 2018 6:02 a.m.
Ronald Craig Lowman, a retired Prescott Valley Police Department officer who has been married for more than 20 years, was found guilty of prostitution on Friday, June 8. However, a 10-person jury chose not to convict him of the more severe charge of child prostitution he was facing.
The difference between the two charges is significant. A first offense of prostitution is considered a class 1 misdemeanor and carries with it a maximum jail sentence of 6 months plus probation. Anyone convicted of child prostitution, a class 2 felony, must be sentenced to at least seven years in prison and can be incarcerated for as long as 21 years. There also is no possibility of probation with the latter.
Lowman, 62, got caught in what is called a john reversal sting on June 21, 2017. In this context, a john is a prostitute’s client. In such an operation, a police officer poses as a prostitute to bust those seeking sex acts in exchange for some form of monetary compensation.
In Lowman’s case, a fake advertisement was created by local law enforcement and was posted on the dating section of Backpage.com, a website known for listing adult escort services. (The website has since been seized by federal law enforcement.)
The ad was crafted to mimic ads sometimes found on the website that don’t explicitly say, but allude to the possibility that sex acts are being offered in return for compensation. For example, local law enforcement posted a number of ads during its operation with titles such as “Young Gurl Hotty Bby face” and “Hottie lookin 4 a fun time.”
Lowman responded to one of these ads and began a texting conversation with the person on the other end. The advertisement was for an encounter with a young woman between the ages of 18 and 20 years old. Unbeknownst to Lowman, the person on the other end of the conversation was Detective Jessica Belling with the Prescott Police Department.
After making the initial arrangements on where to meet, what services Lowman wanted, and how much time his $120 offer would buy him with the supposed prostitute, the undercover officer sent Lowman text messages claiming to be 16 years old. Lowman attempted to clarify if the supposed prostitute was at least 18 or not, but never confirmed it before showing up to the arranged meetup spot — a hotel room in Prescott. Lowman was arrested when he entered the room.
Upon initial questioning from police, Lowman claimed he was simply seeking a massage, according to police statements. In a later interview, he admitted to seeking out a prostitute, but claimed he had no desire for it to be a minor and did not believe the supposed prostitute he was meeting was, in fact, 16 years old.
During his trial, his attorney, Charity Clark, argued this point throughout the proceedings. “[Lowman] didn’t want to believe there would be a minor on the other end,” Clark said. “He is taking responsibility for what he did, and that’s prostitution, not child prostitution.”
Despite Lowman’s uncertainty about the prostitute’s age, he testified his plan was to show up and try to verify her age once they met. If the prostitute was actually underage, he would have left instead of following through with any sex acts, he said.
Michael McGill, the prosecuting attorney with the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office handling the case, argued that Lowman is downplaying his guilt and that his intent was clear at the time given the evidence.
“Time and time again we hear that Mr. Lowman didn’t want to believe (the prostitute was underage), but what he knew under the circumstances was that A) it was a prostitute – no question there, apparently – and B) it was a minor,” McGill said.
Additionally, given Lowman’s 20-plus years of experience as a police officer, McGill said Lowman should have known better than to even chance involving himself with an underage prostitute in any way unless he simply didn’t care what age she was.
“He had every chance to walk away,” McGill said. “Every chance to say no; every chance to question; every chance to be curious.”
McGill’s argument, however, was not enough to sway the jury, which came to a decision after about two hours of deliberations.
Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley oversaw the court proceedings and will deliver Lowman’s official sentencing at 3 p.m. Monday, July 9.