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A call to action against human trafficking

HANFORD — Managing Deputy District Attorney Phil Esbenshade stood on stage Tuesday night at Koinonia Church and showed the crowd two pictures: one was a man in his 30s, the other was a smiling teenage girl.

Both of these people, Esbenshade said, were human traffickers who sexually exploited others right in this community.

The man was an airman in the Navy and he began a relationship with a teenage girl and eventually began sexually trafficking her and profiting from it. The girl was arrested last year after sexually trafficking four other teenage girls in and around Hanford.

Esbenshade used the pictures to prove the point that there is no stereotypical description of a human trafficker.

“I told you I can’t show you the face of a stereotypical human trafficker,” Esbenshade said. “If that doesn’t smash the stereotype, what does?”

“Human trafficking is a crime that is hiding in plain sight, it really is,” Esbenshade said

Esbenshade spoke at “The Fight Continues,” a community discussion about human trafficking that took place Tuesday night at Koinonia Church.

The night also included guest speakers Keith Fagundes, Kings County District Attorney; David Rice, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the San Joaquin; Jennifer Boteilho, program manager for Family Services of Tulare County; and Dakota Draconi, founder of Breaking the Silence and survivor of human trafficking.

Boteilho told the audience about services and relayed some statistics, saying her organization is aware of at least 602 human trafficking survivors locally ranging from 12 to 72 years old.

“It’s happening, it’s huge, it’s happening in our Central Valley,” Boteilho said.

Fagundes started the night off by differencing between human trafficking and smuggling. He said many people hear the term “trafficking” and think about people in big vans being taken from place to place and sold, not unlike illegal guns or drugs.

“Realistically, that’s all smuggling,” Fagundes said. “We’re taking about a much more dire situation, and it is human trafficking.”

He said in a human trafficking situation, the lifestyle of abuse is perpetual and hard to overcome for victims.

Esbenshade has prosecuted cases for over a decade and is considered an expert in human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault across the state. Fagundes said Esbenshade has been instrumental in moving the county forward on issues involving human trafficking and sexual abuse.

Esbenshade said it’s important for people to change the lens in which they look at human trafficking. He said trafficking isn’t just a crime, it’s a fundamental violation of the basic human rights we all have.

From a legal stance, Esbenshade said human trafficking does not have to involve movement.

“A person can be trafficked from their bedroom and never leave,” Esbenshade said. “That probably surprises a lot of people. You could be trafficked in your own hometown; you don’t need to cross one state line, you don’t need to cross one city border to be trafficked.”

Esbenshade said the area that most concerns him and Fagundes is commercial sexual exploitation of children, which happens all over the country and is where children are trafficked and sold sexually.

Just as there is no stereotypical trafficker, Esbenshade said there is no stereotypical victim. He did say, however, that there are commonalities between victims, including vulnerabilities like trouble at home, substance abuse issues, parental issues or domestic violence.

“There are people out there that want to steal the honor and the dignity of our children, and if that’s not bad enough, they want to do it for money,” Esbenshade said. “This is a situation that is so bad it calls for more than concern; it calls for action.”

Esbenshade said it’s up to everyone to help spot these situations and speak up.

Rice said most people may not understand what human trafficking is, and even if they do, they don’t know what they can do to help.

“The number of people it takes to change the world is the number of people we have,” Rice said. “The number of people we have in this space this evening, we can change this world of that which I speak. We can do that with our prayers, with our feet, with our hands, with our hearts, with our minds, with our pockets.”

Rice said attitudes and behaviors also need to be changed because the crime and the victims are connected to everyone. He said it is time for people to acknowledge that they are responsible for changing the world and that there is still much work that needs to be done concerning human trafficking.

“I am heartened by occasions like this [where] people come together to keep these discussions going to acknowledge the fight has to continue,” Rice said. “Because, quite frankly, we’ve only started.”

Esbenshade said the fight against human trafficking starts with aggressive investigation and aggressive prosecution, and ends with organizations collaborating and providing services to the survivors. Fagundes said the many organizations that came together to put the event on are willing and ready to help anyone in need.

“The folks in our community take this issue very seriously, and it’s one that needs our attention,” Fagundes said.

HFD breaks ground on fire station #3

HANFORD — It was a cold day on Wednesday, but that didn’t stop dozens of people from attending the groundbreaking for Hanford Fire Department’s Fire Station #3 and getting their shoes a little muddy.

The third station has been in the works for many years, Hanford Fire Chief Chris Ekk said, even going back to when he was first hired in 2000. He thanked the City Council and all the people in different city departments who helped finally make the plan happen.

“Everybody had to work together to get to where we are today,” Ekk said. “Thank you for your commitment to bring our department forward.”

In 2006, a fire station study was conducted and pointed out areas in town where new fire stations should be in the future. The third fire station will be located on city-owned property at the corner of 12th Avenue and Woodland Drive near the 12th Avenue/Hanford-Armona Road intersection.

The city currently has two stations, one near Grangeville Boulevard and Redington Street, and the other at Houston and 10 1/2 avenues.

Ekk said the station will house three personnel at a time and service the southwest and west area of Hanford, where response times are slower. The new station is all about improving response times to emergency calls and better serving the growing Hanford community.

The Hanford Fire Department has long aimed to reach the National Fire Prevention Association standard to reach 90 percent of its calls within five minutes, including prep and drive time.

All five Hanford City Council members attended the groundbreaking along with numerous Hanford firefighters and fire personnel from neighboring cities.

Mayor David Ayers said he and the rest of council are excited about the new station, which is definitely needed as Hanford continues to grow.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to provide the services that our citizens expect of us,” Ayers said.

Man possibly connected to May homicide arrested

LEMOORE — Lemoore Police said they have arrested a man wanted in connection to a May 2017 homicide in Lemoore.

Police said 23-year-old Isaac Gabriel Gaytan was wanted for his involvement in the gang related homicide of Anthony Andrew Magana that occurred on May 17, 2017.

Officials said Magana was stabbed before being found in the 800 block of East Hanford Armona Road. Life saving measures were taken, but police said Magana died at the scene.

Lemoore PD detectives identified Gaytan and 18-year-old Jaime Alfredo Macias as the two suspects responsible for Magana’s death. Officers said Macias was located and arrested on May 22, 2017.

On Tuesday at about 12:40 p.m., Lemoore PD detectives along with help from the Corcoran Police Department tracked Gaytan to an apartment in the 2000 block of Whitley Avenue in Corcoran, police said.

Officials said the Kings County Gang Task Force responded and assisted the Corcoran Police Department by establishing a perimeter around the apartment building. Additional assistance was requested due to Gaytan attempting to exit the apartment through the rear window of the building when initial officers arrived, officers said.

Once the perimeter was secured, officials said Gang Task Force investigators used a public announcement speaker to order Gaytan out of the residence. Gaytan refused to exit the residence and police said this process continued for about one hour.

Gaytan eventually surrendered and authorities said he was arrested and booked into the Kings County Jail on suspicion of multiple outstanding warrants for his arrest.