When the 18-wheeler rolled over the scale in mid-June at the Fort Collins, Colorado Port of Entry, Officer Jeanay Angel began what turned out to be anything but a routine inspection stop.
Almost immediately, she noticed the passenger in the truck looked significantly younger than the driver. Having recently completed the Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) in-depth law enforcement human trafficking training, she took this as a suspicious sign and pulled the truck in to verify the passenger authorization required by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration and to talk to both parties in the truck.
“In addition to the age difference between the passenger and driver,” she explained, “I parked the truck, because the girl appeared to be no visible relation to the driver and the tattoo on her neck, from a distance, looked like a barcode … like you typically find on food.”
The driver, who came into the office, had the necessary authorization and stated that the girl, who was almost 30 years younger, was his girlfriend of a few months. Angel asked if she could talk to the girl and was given permission.
“I typically do my interviews one on one,” Angel said, “so I have practice there, but, with this contact, she said everything that’s taught in the human trafficking classes about what survivors go through or what the traffickers use against them or prey on to convince the survivor to stay.”
The girl, who was covered in tattoos, stated she was an out-of-work model, was broke and had cut all her own hair off, because she was depressed following her dog’s death. Angel asked her several times if she was okay, felt safe and wanted help, and the girl declined to give a clear answer.
The IDs of both the driver and passenger were clean in Colorado’s law enforcement database, so Angel told them they could go. The driver brought up human trafficking in conversation and said he thought it was a theory and scam, that he had a party bus in Oklahoma and had never been in trouble.
After they left, Angel still believed “none of it felt or sounded right,” so she ran their IDs through a national database and found an outstanding arrest warrant from Oklahoma on the driver for child sexual abuse.
“It was very hard to have the knowledge and training I’ve had and not be able to do anything about it without the help of the passenger,” Angel recalled. “It was also emotional for me to have had the attitude the driver displayed, the indicators from the passenger, and then to find out about his warrant after they left.”
She continued, “After learning about the warrant, my first step was to contact the first port they would be in contact with next in Wyoming, even though, based on the time, they most likely had passed already. I had no idea they would take my information so seriously to put out a BOLO for the truck. I hated to have to admit my mistake that I let them go, but if I wouldn’t have, he would have gotten away and she would still have been in the truck.”
After contacting Wyoming troopers, Angel alerted TAT. TAT confirmed the arrest warrant in Oklahoma and also spoke with Wyoming Highway Patrol, who stopped the truck, arrested the driver and worked with Oklahoma to extradite him. Additionally, TAT made a number of other contacts to law enforcement and trucking entities to alert the driver’s company in another state of what was occurring.
“Once getting out the information to both Wyoming and TAT,” Angel stated, “finding out how many agencies were contacted from there was honestly so relieving and heartwarming. Also, getting updates frequently from different officers so I wasn’t left hanging showed they know what it’s like to have a situation like this and never getting updates.”
Using a victim-centered approach, the Wyoming State Patrol paid for a hotel room for the girl for the night, and while she said the driver hadn’t harmed her, both TAT Deputy Director Kylla Lanier, who provides law enforcement training, as well as members of law enforcement involved in the case, believe the girl was being groomed for trafficking. Lanier counseled the girl regarding warning signs and future involvement with “her boyfriend.”
Angel credits TAT training for knowing what she was looking at and what to do. “Without the law enforcement training and seminars put on by TAT,” she said, “I wouldn’t have been able to identify a potential victim and exploiter. Everything TAT teaches on what a victim says or does was exactly what I experienced with this young lady. With TAT’s input, we were able to contact a total of four agencies to help get her out of the situation and hopefully change her life.”