FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – She had been through so much – beaten, abused, humiliated and, worst of all, taken from her family in her native country of Honduras.
But when the man began to cut his name into her stomach – a brand to show everyone he owned her – the young woman’s courage overtook her fear …
She’d had enough. She would risk her life … in order to try and regain her life.
As a friend called for help, she fled from her captor, hid in the classroom of an old school building in Cleburne … and waited for Fort Worth police officers Danny Meza and Gabe Barrera to come get her.
“When she saw us, you could see that her face just became white,” said Barrera, who, along with Meza, are trained as investigators of human-trafficking crimes.
“She walked to us. We said there is a car outside … she ran to the car, jumped in the back seat and went straight to the floorboard,” Barrera said.
Meza added: “That’s where she stayed until we arrived in Dallas … and once we got her to the safe house, you could just see the look on her face … the color came back … she realized that we were trying to help her.”
But little did she know, on that morning in October 2009, that she was still not out of harm’s way.
In a story they told only to CBS 11 News, Meza and Barrera described how they worked to save the woman, only to see their case evaporate when they turned to the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency in Dallas to pursue federal human-trafficking charges against their suspect.
“I had one of the agents tell me she’s not a victim … and that was like, ‘You’ve only listened to her story for 10 minutes … give this girl a break,’” Meza said.
“They didn’t believe her story and wouldn’t certify her as a trafficking victim,” Barrera said.
Meza and Barrera, both decorated veterans of the Fort Worth Police Department, said ICE’s decision not to officially certify the woman as a trafficking victim resulted in the federal case falling apart.
Instead, the man was simply jailed as an illegal immigrant and, subsequently, deported back to the Honduras …
And back to the woman’s family.
“This trafficker did approach the family over there,” said Barrera, adding it was exactly what the man had threatened to do if the woman tried to break his hold on her.
At the same time, the woman left Dallas and moved to another part of the country – still frightened the man would come back for her.
She had reason to worry.
CBS 11 has learned the man re-entered the country last October and tracked his victim down. But this time, ICE agents in another part of the country acted immediately, arresting the man and providing protection for the woman.
The man is again jailed for being in this country illegally, while authorities work to see if they can gather enough evidence to file federal trafficking charges against him.
Their work included sending an agent 1,600 miles to Cleburne to interview the woman’s friend, who called Barrera and Meza in the first place. She was encouraged by that, she told CBS 11, because no one from the ICE office in Dallas ever attempted to contact her.
ICE in Dallas declined to be interviewed on camera about why they did not certify the woman as a trafficking victim. They did, however, send this statement:
“ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) takes all suspected human trafficking cases very seriously. This commitment to protecting these victims and prosecuting the traffickers is why HSI Dallas in January 2010 coordinated the establishment of the North Texas Trafficking Task Force which is comprised of 17 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, working in collaboration with numerous non-governmental organizations.
“NTTTF is also housed in HSI office spaces in Irving, Texas, where law enforcement agencies share their experience, expertise and resources to identify and prosecute human traffickers, and aid their traumatized victims.
“HSI welcomes the opportunity to help increase public awareness of this especially secretive and heinous crime. Public awareness is the best means of identifying the victims and the traffickers. Identification is the first stage of aiding the victims, and prosecuting their traffickers.”
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