2 women saved, 4 men arrested during undercover human trafficking investigation
A 3-day undercover investigation conducted by the TBI, Bradley County Sheriff's Office, and Cleveland Police has resulted in four men behind bars and two women returned to safety.
The arrest took place at a local hotel, according to Sergeant Evie West with Cleveland PD, while not wanting to offer what specific location it was at. Listed below are the names and charges the four men are facing as they sit in the Bradley County Jail.
- Timothy Carter, age 50, of Crossville, TN: 1 count of trafficking for commercial sex
- Stephen Whited, age 29, of Sweetwater, TN: 1 count of trafficking for commercial sex
- Brian Hamler, age 43, of Atlanta, GA: 1 count of trafficking for commercial sex
- Donald Thomas, age 45, of Lawrenceville, GA: 1 count of promoting prostitution, 1 count criminal impersonation
It was a happy ending to the story for two women rescued. Sarah McKinnis founded WillowBend Farms to give a home and offer support for those that are victims of sex crimes or human trafficking. McKinnis tells us both those women are seeking support with WillowBend Farms.
"They’re very scared they’re skeptical," said McKinnis, "They don’t know how to trust that’s one of the first reactions and it’s normal. They don’t know who to trust or what to trust."
McKinnis says she deals with roughly a dozen women right now, saying that human trafficking in Cleveland is unfortunately not as uncommon as you may think.
"And just to be honest, that’s the number 1 question I get asked: 'Is it really happening here?' and I have to say yes."
Sergeant West tells us the reason many details of the investigation have been left out is to protect the process from being known by criminals. She says there will likely be more indictments to come in the following days, and that they plan to continue this investigation to keep predators off the streets. Calling it a win so far, she says this makes a statement in the city.
"That is what the focus is saving those peoples' lives but also arresting the offenders, charging the offenders but also sending out the message that we don’t want this happening here and we are going to take an aggressive approach."
This is a developing story, count on us to keep you updated.