The Harris County Sheriff’s Office announced 32 arrests in a human trafficking initiative dubbed Operation Kickoff 2020 at a Jan. 18 press conference. Charges associated with the operation …
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office announced 32 arrests in a human trafficking initiative dubbed Operation Kickoff 2020 at a Jan. 18 press conference. Charges associated with the operation include human trafficking, prostitution and compelling prostitution, said HCSO Captain Chris Sandoval who works with the department’s Human Trafficking Unit.
“Through the investigation we identified one of the most prolific, violent pimps known for targeting minors in our area,” Sandoval said. “Two young females were also brought to the Houston area for trafficking purposes and they were brought here from Austin and California. Two other females were identified who were being trafficked by the same pimp.”
The operation spanned a 5-day period from Jan. 21 to Jan. 25 with a command post of 60 to 80 people stationed out of a Goose Creek ISD facility in eastern Harris County, Sandoval said. A variety of law enforcement agencies including local agencies in the Greater Houston Area, state agencies such as DPS and federal agencies such as the FBI participated in the investigation which was an initiative of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance. The operation also included nonprofits and social services organizations such as Texas Forensic Nursing Examiners and YMCA International, Sandoval said.
The operation resulted in 32 arrests and 39 charges, HCSO officials said. Names and mugshots of those arrested in the operation were not released due to an ongoing investigation, they added.
Victims rescued from captivity in what Sandoval described as “modern day slavery” and had been forced into prostitution were arrested because it allowed law enforcement to connect them with services to address the traumas they had been subjected to, Sandoval said.
“When it came to those charged with engaging in prostitution, we recognize that those who are selling their bodies for sex almost always are victims,” Sandoval said. “… Some of these victims suffer from substance abuse. Many live lives of unending physical and psychological abuse, so imagine if you were regularly beaten, raped and deprived of food and nourishment because you didn’t want to do what your abusers or your captors wanted you to do. How long would it take you to understand that you have to realize that you need to do it in order to eat and not be beaten? Therefore, you decide to do it, you do it reluctantly, and you do it to keep from being beaten and [so] you can eat.”
The operation was led by Sgt. Marty Kuehn of the HCSO Human Trafficking Unit who presented a plaque to Goose Creek ISD officials for the district’s assistance in the investigation and briefed reporters on the operation.
“Operational details are usually very limited so I won’t be speaking in great detail for the integrity of the operation and future operations,” Kuehn said at the beginning of his remarks.
Three of the six victims identified in the operation were 17 years old, Kuehn said.
However, other law enforcement agencies from around the state were on hand during the investigation to observe the task force’s operation to be implemented in other parts of the state, Kuehn said.
Generally, Operation Kickoff 2020 consisted of undercover officers soliciting potential human trafficking victims through social media and other means, Kuehn said. The victim would then show up for arranged rendezvous. The victims are ordinarily escorted by a pimp or someone assigned to deliver them to the rendezvous and then the investigation determines their level of involvement, he said.
Now that the operation is complete, law enforcement is turning the cases over to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office with as much evidence as possible, Sandoval said.
“We will be seeking long prison sentences and jury trials to hold trafficking offenders accountable,” said Human Trafficking Section Chief Johna Stallings of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
“Many times in our investigations, that’s where we come across our trafficking and compelling [prostitution] charges,” Kuehn said.
All of the speakers at the press conference said that it was important to recognize the partnerships and scope of the operation in order to bring the human traffickers identified in the investigation to justice. That includes members of the public who suspect something is wrong, law enforcement agencies, businesses that support law enforcement’s efforts, nonprofits and other community resources, Sandoval said.
“I would just like to thank all of our partners. These operations are major operations. One agency can’t just do it,” Kuehn said.