Undercover sting nets Winston mayor
The mayor of Winston is behind bars after being arrested by the Myrtle Creek Police Department on suspicion of sex and weapons charges.
Police arrested Kenneth Lewis Barrett, 71, on March 19 after Barrett arrived at an agreed-upon location to meet a 14-year-old female for sexual contact. During the arrest, police also found Barrett to be in possession of a concealed semiautomatic handgun.
Police began investigating Barrett on March 5 after he shared and commented on the Facebook profile picture of a young girl. Barrett said the photo was “hot.”
The Facebook page was operated by a Myrtle Creek police officer that uses the profile to catch people who sexually prey on children, according to court documents.
The officer, posing as the 14-year-old girl, contacted Barrett on Facebook and thanked him for the comment and told him he was sweet.
“So are you babe,” he said, before telling the girl he was the current mayor in Winston.
After the girl told Barrett she was 14, Barrett said he was “71 with the mind of a 17 year old and the energy of a 12 year old,” according to court documents.
The next day Barrett messaged the girl and acknowledged that the two had to be careful while talking because the girl “could have the Mayor of Winston in jail for chatting with a 14 year old young lady.”
Later, he said that the importance of a relationship included, “if appropriate, loving sex,” before sending the girl a picture of cherries and asking whether she was a virgin.
Barrett then asked for pictures of the girl and asked whether she wanted to “fly to the north pole and visit Santa in his hot tub naked,” according to court documents.
On March 18, Barrett again contacted the girl and asked about her fantasies. During the conversation, Barrett told the girl he was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War so it was impossible for him to impregnate her.
“But I can give you the real experience,” he added, according to court documents.
Police used the undercover account to arrange a meeting with Barrett in Myrtle Creek. He agreed to meet with the girl and offered to bring pizza and something to drink.
On March 19, Barrett again messaged the girl and expressed his excitement in meeting her, saying he was “quivering for pizza and you,” according to court documents.
At approximately 7 p.m. that day multiple officers from the Myrtle Creek Police Department arrived at the predetermined location and waited for Barrett to show up at around 8 p.m.
At approximately 8:40 p.m., Barrett arrived at the location and messaged the girl “The bad boy is here.”
Officers arrested Barrett and transported him to the Douglas County Jail in lieu of more than $106,000 bail. He was arrested on suspicion of two counts of second-degree online sexual corruption of a child and unlawful concealment of a firearm. Kevin Taggart of the Myrtle Creek police said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges are pending.
The city of Winston declined to make a statement about the arrest, citing the ongoing investigation.
“We don’t have any statement to make on the subject at this time since we don’t know all of the details,” said City Manager Mark Bauer.
“It’s never good for a city to have a mayor arrested for any reason,” he added.
During the regular city council meeting Monday night, Winston City Council President Dick Hayes took over as the chair of the proceedings in the absence of Barrett.
Hayes told the audience of about 30 people, “There’s a problem in town right now, and we’re not here to discuss it, because we don’t have all the facts yet, so until we get them and understand them, we’ll explain them at that time,” referring the the arrest of the mayor.
According to Douglas County Clerk Patricia Hitt, Winston residents would have to collect 257 valid signatures to recall Barrett, but she added that petitions can only be filed after the public officer has served for at least six months of his or her current term.
Barrett’s term started in January, after he was elected mayor in November, defeating Sandra Thorn.
After hearing the news of Barrett’s arrest, Thorn said she was in shock.
“I’m very sad for Winston because we’ve been working hard to improve our city,” she said. “It’s a great place to live, but we’ve been working to make sure other people knew that as well, and this kinda puts a dink in that.”
Thorn, who had already been contemplating running for mayor a second time, said she was talking with her husband about potentially having to make that decision sooner, rather than later.
Winston resident Becki Cooper also said she was shocked when she heard the news.
“I do not approve, do not approve,” she said. “I’m shocked and appalled by the whole thing because he ran to take care of our city and we don’t need those types of people running and deceiving every body.”
Her husband, Terry Cooper, was less stunned by the news.
“I’m old enough now that hardly anything shocks me, tell you the truth,” he said.
Barrett’s arrest was one of four arrests made by the Myrtle Creek Police Department involving online sex crimes against children since Feb. 24, said Taggart.
Reporter Dan Bain contributed to this story.
Reporter Ian Campbell can be reached at 541-957-4209 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter @MrCampbell17.