A man pleaded guilty to a human trafficking charge and other allegations Wednesday after his trial started and the prosecutor presented the opening statement to jurors, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
David Johnson, 34, entered a guilty plea in Santa Barbara County Superior Court even though Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian refused to offer any plea bargain, the District Attorney’s Office said.
The defendant faces a maximum sentence of 57 years in state prison when he returns to court for sentencing March 19.
Johnson pleaded guilty to human trafficking, pimping, and pandering. He also admitted special allegations for inflicting great bodily injury upon a woman during the time he was human trafficking her.
He further admitted to a prior strike conviction for robbery, and serving two separate terms in prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The defendant is alleged to be a known Piru Blood gang member from Los Angeles, the District Attorney’s Office said.
In 2016, Johnson met the then-18-year-old victim — identified in court as Jane Doe — in Miami, Florida.
“He told her she could make money dancing in Los Angeles,” the District Attorney’s Office said. “He then convinced her that he loved her, and she decided to move to California with him.”
Johnson became violent with the victim after moving to Los Angeles, prosecutors said. He then took the woman to Utah where he insisted she worked for him as a prostitute.
Over the next 16 months, the defendant sex trafficked Jane Doe to various states, including Washington, Nevada and across California.
During this time, Johnson “beat her so severely that she required medical attention on multiple occasions,” the District Attorney’s Office said. The woman suffered injuries, including a broken nose, a lacerated brow and injury to her genitalia.
Johnson often threatened to kill her and her family.
“As a result, Jane Doe was in constant fear for both herself and those she loved, therefore, she continued to work for him as a prostitute,” the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
On June 29, 2017, detectives with the Santa Barbara Police Department conducted a human trafficking sting operation.
“The goal of the operation was to locate and liberate victims of human sex trafficking,” the District Attorney’s Office said. “During the course of their investigation, they located an escort advertisement featuring Jane Doe.”
Sgt. Ryan DeJohn posed as a client and arranged a meeting with Jane Doe, the District Attorney’s Office said, and the ensuing investigation revealed she was a victim of human trafficking.
A case against Johnson was filed July 6, 2017, in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
The Sheriff’s Department filed a motion in January to require physical restraints in the courtroom “due to the security risks presented by defendant’s record,” according to court documents.
Court documents describe that Johnson has a “lengthy history of violent, unruly and nonconforming behavior while in custody.”
Johnson, and two others, reportedly assaulted another inmate in jail, and he was caught with a cell phone, improvised weapon, marijuana, yelled and he was aggressive toward jail staff, court documents said.
District Attorney Joyce Dudley commended DeJohn and other investigators who worked closely with the county District Attorney’s Office’s Human Trafficking Task Force in the case.
“All of these criminal justice professionals worked tirelessly to gather as much evidence and legal research as they could to educate the jury and support the human trafficking victim/survivor,” Dudley said in a statement. “This same team also had to garner the trust and support of the terrified victim, her family and other witnesses who understandably feared retaliation.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.