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Local News

Teen Runaway From L.A. Victim of Sexual Assault

Michael Scott Starnes, 19, is accused of sodomy in alleged attack on mentally-impaired 14-year-old

Michael Scott Starnes
Michael Scott Starnes

[Noozhawk’s note: This story was updated July 31, 2012, to reflect that no charges have been filed against the suspect.]

The investigation into a runaway teen from Los Angeles has led to the arrest of a 19-year-old Santa Barbara man on suspicion of sexual assault, according to the Santa Barbara Police Department.

Michael Scott Starnes, 19, was booked into Santa Barbara County Jail on Wednesday on felony charges of sodomy and false imprisonment, and misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor, said police Sgt. Riley Harwood, a department spokesman. Bail was set at $50,000.

However, Starnes subsequently was released, with a letter from the Police Department saying his arrest had been reclassified as “a detention only.”

As of July 31, the District Attorney’s Office had not filed any charges against Starnes.

Harwood said prosecutors determined there was “insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution” based on evidence the Police Department initially submitted, but added that “we are still actively investigating this case.”

Senior Deputy District Attorney Lee Carter declined comment on the case, saying his office is “waiting till the investigation is complete.”

The investigation began in February, when Officer Keld Hove saw a report from the Los Angeles Police Department advising that a runaway 14-year-old with mental-health and cognitive disabilities might be in Santa Barbara. His mother, who also has mental-health issues, had come to Santa Barbara looking for him, but could not find him.

The city’s Restorative Policing Outreach Team was alerted, and found the teen on State Street with a group of young transients. He indicated he wanted to go home, but his mother was unable to pick him up.

Hove decided that sending him home on the bus or train, the usual practice, was not a good idea due to his mental condition, and decided to drive him there himself. During the course of their travel, the boy confided to Hove that he had been sexually assaulted.

Subsequent investigation determined that the boy met the suspect and two women on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, and the suspect eventually offered to take him to the beach. While driving, the two smoked marijuana, and the teen eventually fell asleep. He awoke with the car in the parking lot at the Santa Barbara Amtrak station at 209 State St.

After the pair smoked more marijuana, the suspect climbed into the backseat, prevented the teen from exiting the vehicle, and sexually assaulted him, Harwood said.The suspect then drove off.

Starnes was identified through a photo on the Facebook page of one of the women from Hollywood Boulevard, Harwood said. Starnes was interviewed Wednesday by police detectives, and admitted to what he described as “consensual” sexual acts with the victim, Harwood said.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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