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The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.

October 6, 2009 at 1:08 PM

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Trial begins for alleged gang member charged with human trafficking

Posted by Jennifer Sullivan

DeShawn Clark, 19, the remaining member of a West Seattle street gang to be tried for his alleged role in a prostitution ring, will appear in court this afternoon for opening statements in his trial.

Of the six men arrested after a Seattle police sting operation last year, Clark is the only one who has not pleaded guilty. Five of the six men arrested after a 19-year-old prostitute directed police to them belonged to a street gang called the West Side Street Mobb, according to police and prosecutors.

Clark, prosecutors say, committed the most egregious crimes. Clark is the first -- and only -- person to be charged in King County Superior Court with human trafficking, a new law created in 2003.

"A very high standard has to be met. You have to show voluntary servitude or forced labor," said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. "To show those things in a prostitution case can be difficult because you are reliant on the cooperation of a potential victim who has suffered severe abuse."

In addition to second-degree human trafficking, Clark is charged with first-degree promoting prostitution, two counts of promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor, second-degree assault, unlawful imprisonment and drug possession.

If convicted, he faces more than 26 years in prison, Goodhew said.

Relatives of two of the men who pleaded guilty deny their relatives' involvement and say the West Side Street Mobb is a neighborhood "clique" and not a gang. Relatives say that their loved ones took plea agreements to avoid potentially harsher penalties had they been found guilty at trial. Among the men to plead guilty is Clark's brother, Shawn.


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