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Sheriff’s Office Joins United Front Against Human Trafficking

Statewide sting nets 510 arrests, three in Santa Barbara County

Operation Reclaim and Rebuild participants at Jan. 30 conference in Los Angeles Hall of Justice.
Operation Reclaim and Rebuild participants at Jan. 30 conference in Los Angeles Hall of Justice. (Courtesy photo)

In conjunction with Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office was one of some 80 federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies that participated in Operation Reclaim and Rebuild, a three-day effort to combat human trafficking.

A press conference, coordinated by the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, was held on Jan. 30 at the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles to announce details and results of the operation.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, along with representatives from the participating agencies, attended to send a clear message that human trafficking will not be tolerated in California.

The successful statewide operation — Jan. 25-27 — recovered 56 adult and minor victims, with 178 males arrested for solicitation and 30 males arrested for pimping, the Sheriff's Office reports.

In total, 510 people were arrested statewide. Of those, three were in Santa Barbara County. All victims recovered during the course of the operation were offered services, the Sheriff's Office said.

In Santa Barbara County, investigators conducted “in call” stings, where an undercover investigator contacted a person advertising on an online escort page and negotiated a sex act in exchange for money.

Investigators then made contact with the individuals who were advertising, and attempted to determine if they were being exploited.

Four women were contacted for prostitution and offered services from Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office advocates specially trained in human trafficking.

Two more individuals from Las Vegas and one from San Gabriel, who were contacted during the operation, also were offered services from the specially trained advocates, the Sheriff's Office reports.

Ernest McDowell III, 29; Keilon Ernest Palms Sr., 30; and Tavari Devon Evans, 28, all from Fresno, were arrested for allegedly pimping and pandering. Evans was also booked on charges of possession of a controlled substance, the Sheriff's Office said.

More than 120 law-enforcement personnel from across the state participated in planning Operation Reclaim and Rebuild.

In Santa Barbara County, investigators from the Sheriff’s Special Investigations Bureau, Sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Bureau, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria police departments, Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, Ventura County District Attorney’s Investigator Office, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office Investigator Office, FBI and Homeland Security Investigations worked together with the Santa Barbara Human Trafficking Task Force to identify and recover victims of human trafficking and identify human traffickers.

Lt. Brian Olmstead, who supervised the operation and represented the Sheriff’s Office at the press conference, said he was encouraged to see the number of law-enforcement agencies in Santa Barbara County and statewide uniting against to combat human trafficking.

“Members of law enforcement in Santa Barbara County will continue to conduct proactive operations in order to rescue victims of human trafficking and arrest the suspects who are preying on the vulnerable population within our communities," he said.

"We hope the public will be vigilant in reporting any suspicious activity that could be related to human trafficking," he said. "People who are victims of human trafficking have been rescued solely by citizens who reported seeing suspicious behavior.”

The Santa Barbara County Human Trafficking Task Force includes participants from local and federal law enforcement, behavioral wellness, faith organizations, child welfare services, and health care providers.

In September 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded $1.34 million to Santa Barbara County to help fund its Human Trafficking Task Force.

The grant also was allocated to help provide investigative resources necessary to not only proactively investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases, but to enable victim and rape crisis advocates to provide critical services for adult and minor domestic and international trafficking victim’s services 24/7.

During the grant’s first year, the task force has identified more than 45 victims, arrested 15 pimps and arrested 35 individuals within Santa Barbara County for arranging to purchasing sex, the Sheriff's Office reports.

All the arrests came from proactive investigations made possible by the grant and collaborative efforts among law-enforcement agencies working within Santa Barbara County.

— Kelly Hoover for Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

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