The Woodburn Spa, seen on July 11, 2022, is at the center of a police investigation that included two local elected officials. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
The mayor and a school board member in Woodburn walked into a local massage parlor last winter and left having experienced more than massages.
Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson, who until last month was the Democratic nominee in a competitive Senate race, told a detective his massage experience was similar to that of Anthony Medina, a school board colleague and the Democratic nominee for a state House District.
Both went to the Woodburn Spa, which was investigated by police in February following Medina’s report for sex abuse, prostitution and operating without a license. The case is now closed, though the spa remains open.
As part of the investigation, they told police they went to the Woodburn Spa expecting normal massages and left, uncomfortable, after the massages turned sexual.
But what the two men did after their massage appointments couldn’t have been more different, according to public records obtained by the Capital Chronicle.
Medina went home, talked to his wife and called police a few hours after he left the massage parlor, telling officers that he struggled to think of himself as a victim because he’s a man, according to the records. He said he was worried that the woman who touched him was a victim of human trafficking, and that was part of why he wanted to report the incident.
Swenson, meanwhile, told nobody what had happened for weeks, records show. He only contacted police after he learned that Medina had reported inappropriate conduct.
Normally, the Capital Chronicle normally does not name sexual abuse or assault victims. But both Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson and Woodburn School District School Board member Anthony Medina, who police named as victims in the massage parlor investigation, are public officials. As such, the Capital Chronicle believes it is important to name them and report on their involvement in the case.
Their accounts were included in a set of police videos and reports released to the Capital Chronicle late Thursday afternoon in response to a public records request. The Capital Chronicle published an earlier story about the investigation in which Swenson acknowledged he had been interviewed by police.
According to a memo from Jeffrey Condit, an attorney hired to advise the city on the records requests, the FBI informed the Woodburn police chief that it didn’t intend to investigate alleged human trafficking at the spa and Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson is not pursuing charges. Clarkson’s spokeswoman did not respond to multiple requests for that information.
Medina can’t get appointment
The Woodburn Spa, off Highway 99 on the northeast side of Woodburn, is in a squat white building with a red roof and a design that suggests it once had a drive-thru window.
The side of the building bears the word “massage” and a phone number, and a half-collapsed sign facing the highway includes photos of hands rubbing bare backs. The spa’s Google information page features a portrait photo of a young Asian woman gazing into the camera, and its website includes three similar posed photos. The spa only accepts cash.
He told police that he decided to try the Woodburn Spa, called ahead about an appointment and picked up $120 in cash – enough for an hour and a half. In a statement to the Capital Chronicle, he said he chose the Woodburn Spa because it had recently opened near his home. There are more than a dozen massage parlors in the city.
From the start, his experience was different from the roughly 100 massages he had received over the last several years, Medina told police. The table was more like a bed, without armrests, and the masseuse gave him a bath towel, not a sheet, to cover himself.
The woman massaging him rubbed her pelvic area against his head and on his arms, pulled down his boxers and briefly touched his genitals, asking if he wanted a massage there, he told police. He said he told her “no,” at which point she moved to his feet and then told him she was out of time and he could come back the next day to finish the hour.
Medina paid and left, and he kept thinking about what happened. His wife could tell something was wrong, and he called police that evening after talking to her, he said.
In his statement to the Capital Chronicle, Medina said it was a traumatizing experience.
“I was the victim of sexual assault when I was 10 years old, and, during this experience with the masseuse, I froze and became that 10-year-old all over again,” he said. “Unfortunately, I had to relive this trauma all over again.”
But he said he was glad he chose to speak to police. They were understanding and professional, Medina said.
“I hope that others in my position would do the same thing. These can be difficult things to talk about, but we all have a responsibility to act, whether you are a victim or are aware of any possibility that human trafficking and exploitation might be happening in our community,” Medina said.
Spa open in evening
A few weeks earlier, Swenson had stopped in the massage parlor. He later told Woodburn Police Detective Linda Hedricks his shoulder was sore after watching a ’49ers game on either Jan. 22 or Jan. 30 and he chose that spa because it was the only place open after 8 p.m.
Swenson didn’t share what he experienced with anyone until mid-February, after he learned there was a police investigation.
On Feb. 15, Medina went into the Woodburn police station to look at a photo lineup. After he identified the woman who gave him a massage, he told Hedricks that he had met Swenson for coffee that day.
“He said, ‘Hey, really need to get something off my chest. Same thing happened to me. Same exact place. I don’t know who to tell,’” Medina told police.
Medina said the only people he told were his wife and Swenson. The officer asked him not to share his story with any other people while the investigation continued.
The next day, Swenson came into the station and spoke with Hedricks, who noted in her report that he “seemed disjointed in his statements.” A roughly 45-minute video recording of the interview shows him repeatedly changing his story of what happened.
Swenson compared his experience to the “MeToo” movement, saying that he didn’t think about it until after he spoke to Medina. He repeated the phrase “it got inappropriate” to describe the incident.
He described “mutual groping” that lasted about three to four minutes and initially denied touching the woman’s breasts or vaginal area, until after Hedricks told him it would come up in an interview with the woman. He similarly waffled on whether the woman touched his genitals, first saying she didn’t and then saying that she might have.
“He had difficulty being specific about where the touching occurred and did not know what words to use,” Hedricks wrote in her report. “He told me there was just mutual touching ‘there.’”
Swenson questioned who was watching the recorded interview and who might read about it, and he expressed distress over the line of questioning.
“This is different than what I thought,” Swenson said after about 30 minutes of questioning. “I thought I’m going to come help stop sex trafficking and not detail my decisions.”
Both in legislative races
Swenson and Medina are both elected school board members who decided to run for the state Legislature after they reported their experiences at the spa. Medina is still the Democratic nominee for the Woodburn 22nd state House District.
But Swenson, who won the Democratic nomination for the 11th Senate District, withdrew weeks after the primary. He did not mention the police investigation at the time, and he has subsequently denied that it had anything to do with his withdrawal.
Swenson’s exit prompted speculation among Democrats that he ran as a placeholder for current Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress. Alonso Leon sought to replace him as the nominee, but that role ultimately went to Keizer attorney Rich Walsh.
This article was updated shortly after 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 14, with a new statement from Anthony Medina.
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