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UPDATE 3/14/12: Charges against Trammell were dropped.
The arrest last week of a suspect in a violent San Francisco kidnapping capped a monthlong investigation headed by human trafficking and domestic violence officers from the Police Department’s revamped special victims unit.
The case, police officials said, is one of the first fruits of a new collaborative approach emphasizing long-term investigations by officers across disciplines. The pursuit involved human trafficking investigators, who as recently as last summer were instead focusing much of their energy on arresting prostitutes on the street, leading some critics to say their efforts were counterproductive because they punished abuse victims.
Police said the investigation started on Nov. 25, after Terrell Trammell, 30, kidnapped a woman, drove her to El Sobrante and beat her badly. The woman told police that Trammell then released her, and she reported the attack at Southern Station in San Francisco.
Station police referred the case to domestic violence investigators because the 35-year-old victim said she was Trammell’s girlfriend. They brought in the trafficking investigators when they discovered Trammell was a working pimp, they said, and he could be coercing women to work for him. They then obtained anrrest warrants for him and a second woman, who they said was driving the car at the time of the reported kidnapping.
It took a month for law enforcement to catch up with the Trammell.
San Francisco Police said he escaped officers after a violent encounter in Oakland on Dec. 28, with one Oakland officer plus six from San Francisco’s human trafficking, domestic violence and violence response teams.
San Francisco police said domestic violence Inspector Antonio Flores spotted Trammell driving on International Boulevard. Four police cars blocked him in traffic at 46th Avenue. Officer Victor Hui of the violence response team approached Trammell, identified himself, and drew his gun to make the arrest.
According to the police, Trammell then escaped in his car after ramming and pushing the vehicle of Sgt. Arlin Vanderbilt, a human trafficking investigator, five feet down the street. No one was hurt, and police did not pursue the suspect because of department safety rules restricting high-speed chases.
But he didn’t remain at large for long. Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputies arrested Trammell last Wednesday night in Martinez.
Trammell will be charged with kidnapping, domestic violence, aggravated assault and aggravated assault on a police officer with a weapon — his car.
The combined charges carry jail sentences of more than 10 years, Vanderbilt said. His human trafficking investigations partner, Brian Peagler, arrested Trammell’s kidnapping accomplice in Oakland with the assistance of local police on Dec. 21.
San Francisco police are not sure whether they will press charges against Trammell under California’s human trafficking law. Police have not filed pimping charges.
Since October, when the Police Department consolidated the special victims unit into a single office at the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St., human trafficking and domestic violence investigators have taken on some pimping cases previously handled by the vice crimes unit. Their approach is to treat prostitutes as victims of forced sex, a form of human trafficking. Federal and state law both define human trafficking as labor extracted through force, fraud or coercion. Pimping fits the definition when it involves physical threats, violence and psychological abuse to maintain control over prostitutes.
Expertise in both pimping and domestic violence cases helped crack this case and find the suspect, Flores said. Pimping and domestic violence cases are similar in that both involve traumatized women. Flores said pimping “is so close to domestic violence” because both involve abusive personal relationships.
Previously, said Lt. Jason Fox, many of these specialties were siloed into different departments, but since last fall there has been more communication among them about complicated cases.
Currently the department has two full-time human trafficking investigators. Investigators in other specialties such as domestic violence are assisting.
But the Police Department faced a setback in staffing its human trafficking work in November after losing out on a $500,000 grant opportunity from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance that would have funded an office at the San Francisco Airport also staffed by personnel from state and federal agencies.
Jason Winshell is photo editor of the Public Press. He also reports and does data analysis. The focus of his art is social documentary photography. In 2010, he was nominated for the SFMOMA SECA award. He has published a book of 45 color photographs about life in San Francisco, “Street.”
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