May 30, 2012 in City

Human trafficking suspects released

By The Spokesman-Review

Four people arrested in what investigators believe is Spokane County’s first human trafficking case were released this weekend because no charges had been filed.

Spokane County sheriff’s investigators are working on the case against Lawrence Dean Johnson, 43; his wife, Dina K. Tellez, 43; Christopher G. Foster, 33; and Foster’s girlfriend, Shanell L. Haddon, 28.

The suspects were released from the Spokane County Jail because prosecutors did not file charges within three days of their arrest as required by law. They can still be charged, and investigators are working on charging recommendations for prosecutors.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Detective Dave Skogen said. “I’m starting to get tips. I’m starting to get random information from the community that I’m trying to track down and run through.”

Foster said in an interview from the Spokane County Jail last week that the woman is a liar, adding that she works as a prostitute and recently had her child taken by Child Protective Services.

Skogen said he can’t predict when he’ll complete his investigation but said he’s been in contact with Spokane County prosecutors about the case.

“It’s just not going to be an easy one to prove, and the prosecutor’s office rightly wants as much information as they can get,” he said.

Nothing prohibits the suspects from contacting the alleged victim, but Skogen said police are in contact with her and continue to monitor her whereabouts.

He defended the decision to arrest the suspects before charges were filed.

“Our concern at the time was for the safety of our victim, and it remains our concern,” he said. “We’re in close contact with the victim, and we feel like she’s in a place where she’s safe.”

The four were arrested last week after a 21-year-old woman went to the Public Safety Building and said she’d been forced to work as a sex slave at meth houses and motels for the past year.

Johnson, Tellez, Foster and Haddon lived at 13520 E. Nora Ave., which investigators searched last week. They seized a large amount of suspected evidence, including methamphetamine, guns, advertisements for escort services and a bottle of bleach. The alleged victim told detectives she was forced to clean herself with bleach after each sex act.

Skogen said he is aware the alleged victim recently was cited for prostitution.

“That’s really not the point. If you think about that, that’s one of the difficult parts about putting together this case,” Skogen said.

“It’s easy to prove that somebody’s been held captive if they’ve been locked in a room or chained to a floor. It’s a whole lot harder to prove that they’ve been trapped by emotions and fear.”

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