Breaking the chains: Channel 2 gets rare, undercover access to sex trafficking crackdown

Channel 2 gets rare, undercover access to sex trafficking crackdown

ATLANTA — A metro Atlanta police department is cracking down on underage sex trafficking, and Channel 2 Action News got exclusive access to its operations.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne hit the streets with local detectives as they caught suspects attempting to prey on the young and rescued a 14-year-old sex trafficking victim.

“There’s a lot of our youth that’s being introduced to this, and they’re not growing up young anymore. They’re becoming old very quick,” DeKalb PD Vice Detective C.D. King said.

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King was a part of the operation that rescued the 14-year-old girl.

"You made a deal with her for what?" Winne asked King.
"Eighty dollars for sex," King said.

King said he found the girl after talking with her mom, who was searching for her. She gave King her daughter’s phone number, and King found it on a website with ads for prostitution. Her ad claimed she was 22 years old.

"To see that 14-year-old, what happened in your heart?" Winne asked King.
"It hurt me. It hit me really deep," he said.

Winne went along with King and other detectives on undercover stings at a DeKalb County motel. In one operation, DeKalb Detective Casey Benton pretended to be a 14-year-old girl. He communicated with a man over a dating app and via text. At one point, another officer posing as the 14-year-old spoke on the phone with the man. He asked if she wanted him to bring anything and she said barbecue potato chips.

Soon after, the man, identified as Travis Bell, arrived at the hotel and asked the officer he thought was the girl to come outside. When she didn’t, he took off, and police pulled him over not far away.

He told police he was innocent.

“I didn’t do nothing,” Bell said. “I was contemplating getting a hotel room and I changed my mind. Is it illegal to get a hotel room?”

Inside his car, police say they found condoms and barbecue potato chips.  They also found his cellphone, which police will now analyze for evidence.

That same day, detectives also arrested Matthew Ferguson in the sting at the motel. Ferguson claims he did not know the girl’s age.

"Through the text, I did not understand that they was saying that they was 14 years old," he said. "I thought they was talking the number.
"Like the price? Like $14?" King asked him.
"Nah, like $1,400," Ferguson said. "I'm not no child predator."

King said stopping those who exploit the underaged is a focus of his life's work.

DeKalb police vice Cmdr. Hubert Brannon says his unit also works with the solicitor general's office to help women who want to get out of the grip of sex trafficking. Two organizations they work closely with are Haven Atlanta and Out of Darkness, but there are others, as well.