Human trafficking charges against Jamel King, a drug dealer from the Detroit area, have been dropped.
Recently, King took a plea deal, pleading guilty to cocaine possession and intent to deliver.
Both Cooney and Traverse City Narcotics commander, Dan King, say human trafficking is a county issue that goes beyond Crick and this one case, but it can be difficult to prosecute.
Before the plea deal, Grand Traverse County prosecuting attorney, Bob Cooney, said King's human trafficking charge may have been the first in the county. Leelanau County charged a man with human trafficking last year, but the charge was also dropped.
It is alleged that King forced Cassandra Crick, his drug runner, into sexual behavior.
"Her statement is that she was being beaten, forced to sell narcotics as well as engage in forced sexual behavior with other drug dealers by Jamel King, and that she would be beaten if she didn’t," says Cooney. "She exhibited injuries consistent with that story."
Crick was recently sentenced to 11 months in prison for drug offenses related to King's drug operation. At the sentencing Judge Thomas G. Power said, "you're a recovering addict, and it's something to be proud of." He asked Crick how she would make sure she stayed in recovery. Crick responded, "For me it's not just not going to parties. I have to learn how to live life again."
Police and prosecutors say it can be challenging to distinguish human trafficking from prostitution and to look past the criminal drug offenses that can go hand-in-hand with trafficking and the victims. And it's hard to prosecute if victims don't want to talk to law enforcement.
But Grand Traverse County prosecuting attorney, Bob Cooney, says the charges against King were not dropped for lack of evidence. But he says the sentencing guidelines are much more severe for the drug charges than the human trafficking charge, and it made sense to go with the plea deal. King is looking at up to 40 years in prison.
Evidence of alleged human trafficking can still affect King's final sentence.
"I think [the sentencing window] gives the judge more than enough discretion to administer a fair and appropriate sentence, taking into account the human trafficking element," Cooney says.
Cooney says he'll encourage the judge to consider the human trafficking evidence when making the final sentence.
King's sentencing is scheduled for later this month.