San Luis Obispo police arrested eight people on prostitution-related charges—including a 16-year-old girl—during a sting operation at a SLO motel on May 29.
In addition to the eight prostitution-related arrests, 20-year-old Douglas James Stephens of SLO was arrested on suspicion of felony human trafficking and pimping a minor, both charges involving the 16-year-old. According to a SLO PD press release, Stephens also had a warrant for his arrest out of Sacramento County. His bail was set at $45,000.
The SLO District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Stephens for pimping and pandering, and is continuing to investigate allegations of human trafficking. Stephens was arraigned June 3 and scheduled for a June 17 pre-preliminary hearing.
The unidentified 16-year-old was arrested on suspicion of prostitution and resisting arrest, and was taken to the Juvenile Services Center, where she was booked. She also had a warrant from Sacramento County, where she previously lived in a group home.
She was later transferred to Sacramento County, and the SLO District Attorney’s Office won’t pursue local charges.
Three men were arrested on suspicion of solicitation of a prostitute, and four women were arrested on suspicion of prostitution. One of the women was also arrested on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance.
According to a SLOPD press release, the 16-year-old allegedly attempted to flee on foot to Stephens’ vehicle and alert him of the presence of law enforcement. Stephens was detained as he was preparing to escape, and the 16-year-old was detained approximately half an hour later.
“The San Luis Obispo Police Department recognizes that minors are often used by adults as prostitutes in order to exploit them for financial gain, purchase illegal drugs, and other illegal activity,” police said in a press release. “Our department has experienced scenarios like this in the past and will continue to conduct operations like this in the future to discourage this activity.”
SLO PD Sgt. Kurt Hixenbaugh told New Times, “The elements of the crime were there, she was an active participant, and made an attempt when she fled from us to alert the [suspect] that we were there.”
He added that “pimping a juvenile” is “obviously the far more serious charge.”
New Times previously reported that Assistant Social Services Director for SLO County Tracy Schiro has been working to develop polices that would dissuade local law enforcement agents from arresting trafficked minors for prostitution, given that the children can’t legally consent to sex. Schiro was unavailable for comment.
The Mountainbrook Abolitionists, a local anti-human trafficking group, issued a statement in response to the arrests: “We are thankful that this sting led to the arrest of a trafficker and multiple buyers of sex. Addressing the demand for sex is a proven effective approach in reducing the selling of children and women. Our hearts go out the 16-year-old victim of human trafficking and the other women who were sold in our own backyard.”
Multiple agencies conducted a similar operation in September 2013 “in response to violent crimes against women, drug sales, and trafficking of stolen property,” according to a SLO PD press release.