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Arrests but no charges in 23rd Street human trafficking sting

on March 25, 2024

In the two months since the state Attorney General’s Office publicized arrests in a human trafficking sting with local agencies, including the Richmond Police Department, no charges have been filed in Contra Costa County and authorities remain tight-lipped about the mysterious case.  

In Richmond, two suspected traffickers were arrested, four citations were issued for solicitation of prostitution, and one firearm was recovered, according to Lt. Donald Patchin. 

Through a public record request, Richmond Confidential found that four people were arrested in Contra Costa County in connection with the Jan. 26 sting, but no human trafficking charges have been filed against any of them: One woman, was cited for disorderly conduct and another for battery. A 32-year-old Oakland man was charged with several felonies, including driving a stolen vehicle and fleeing police, and is being held at the West County Detention Center. No charges have been filed against a 49-year-old Stockman man, who was being held in the Martinez Detention Facility for two outstanding warrants.

The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office said it has received no information from the Richmond Police Department about the arrests. Therefore, the office has not reviewed the case to determine if human trafficking charges are warranted. Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office also had no information about the arrests. 

Patchin said police are still investigating and that charges eventually may be filed.

A blurry image of a cop to the left of the frame, writing a ticket. Behind him is a police car parked against a tan building, its rear lights on.
Richmond’s 23rd Street corridor has long been an open market for sex trafficking. (File photo)

Seven women were rescued from the trafficking operation, said Katrina Natale, Contra Costa Human Trafficking Task Force director. She said they range in age from 20 to 34 years old and are receiving advocacy services. 

The sting occurred under Operation Reclaim and Rebuild, a multi-agency statewide initiative to rescue victims of human trafficking and arrest traffickers, according to a Jan. 31 news release from Bonta’s office. As a result, 23 people were rescued, including at least one minor, and 29 were arrested. 

According to the release, officers targeted areas known for sex exploitation, using surveillance and undercover tactics. Patchin confirmed the arrests were made “in or around the 23rd Street corridor.” He compared that area to International Boulevard in Oakland, saying, “Everybody knows that they are hotspots for prostitution.”

La Toya Gix, a specialist in Oakland’s Violence Prevention Department who has done outreach in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, agreed that trafficking in the two cities is overt in some places. Often, she said, it involves Black women or girls under 18. 

“Richmond typically looks more like Oakland in the sense of out in the open and standing outside,” Gix said.  

Neighbors grew suspicious

In January, Richmond residents were chatting on Facebook and Nextdoor about the large number of sex workers lined up on or around 23rd Street, and some worried about underage girls being among them.

“There are about 20-30 prostitutes out lining the street from at least Lincoln down to Gaynor on 24th Street,” a Nextdoor post read. “Prostitution traffic is out of control on 24th Street,” said one on Facebook. 

Community Violence Solutions, one of the agencies working with sex-trafficked victims, offers case management and counseling and can connect people to other resources. The Police Department is responsible for providing advocate services, and it is then up to each organization to work individually with victims. 

“We look at it as, let’s offer them resources and do what we can to try and get them out of that lifestyle,” said Patchin. 

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that decriminalized loitering for the purposes of prostitution, ultimately making it difficult for police to speak with sex workers on the streets and to identify traffickers. The law was initiated because Black and brown women and members of the LGBT community were disproportionally being cited for loitering. 

“We are limited in the enforcement action we can take,” Patchin said. “We aren’t able to take legal action to curtail it. All that we can really do is, through these operations, offer resources and try to get to the root of the problem.” 

Along with Richmond police, agencies involved in the January sting included Hercules and Pittsburg police, the Contra Costa DA’s Office, Contra Costa Safe Streets Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI, and Northern California Regional Information Center. 

If you believe someone is being trafficked, the Contra Costa Human Trafficking Coalition recommends calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 888-373-7888.

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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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