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Trafficking victims’ advocate says woman’s case shows flaws in legal system

Tayari Meadows, 20, appears in court on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, in Minot, N.D., for sentencing on a human trafficking conviction. (Photo by KXMC-TV, Minot)

MINOT, N.D. – A woman convicted last week in Minot for human trafficking was also a victim and should have received better services, says an advocate for sex trafficking victims.

Tayari Chanel Meadows, 20, was released from jail last week and sentenced to three years of probation for her role in trafficking a 14-year-old runaway from Las Vegas.

Minot police arrested Meadows last April after the teen’s mother discovered her daughter was being advertised for prostitution on Backpage.com. Meadows was accused of placing the ad and arranging dates for the teen.

Another man, 19-year-old Kevin Ty-Shon Jackson Fleming, also is charged with human trafficking in the case.

Windie Lazenko, CEO of 4her ND, which assists victims of sex trafficking, said while Meadows should be held accountable for the role she played, she should also be viewed as a victim of sex trafficking.

“Her entryway into the life of prostitution was as a minor,” said Lazenko, who met with Meadows at the Ward County Jail after her arrest.

The fact that Meadows was a victim was considered during negotiations for a plea agreement, said defense attorney Robert Martin.

“I would view Ms. Meadows as a victim who was caught up,” Martin said.

Martin said he advocated for a shorter sentence that would have resulted in a misdemeanor conviction because Meadows also was being forced into prostitution by Fleming. In addition, Martin factored in Meadows’ young age and her criminal record that doesn’t contain more than a misdemeanor prostitution conviction.

Prosecutors’ counter-offer was a two-year suspended prison sentence with a felony conviction, and Meadows accepted the offer, Martin said.

But Martin said Meadows disagreed with some of the allegations, which is why she entered an Alford plea, meaning she did not admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors had enough evidence for a conviction.

Rozanna Larson, Ward County state’s attorney, did not return calls seeking comment.

North Central Judicial District Court records say the 14-year-old told police she met Meadows and Fleming while walking home from school and Meadows convinced her to join them to “hang out” and make good money. The 14-year-old told police she didn’t know the plan was to leave Las Vegas and go to North Dakota, where Meadows and Fleming arranged “dates” for her in Williston and Minot, documents say.

The 14-year-old said Fleming would take the money from the dates and both Fleming and Meadows she wouldn’t eat if she didn’t make money, court records say.

But Meadows told police she thought the teen was 18 and she was helping her get away from her mother, court records say.

Minot police also encountered a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim who said Meadows arranged her Backpage ads. Both teens were flown back to their families in Las Vegas, though the 16-year-old ran away from authorities at a Nevada airport before she was located days later.

If Meadows violates her probation in the next three years, which Martin said requires her to stay away from drug users and traffickers, she could be back in court facing up to life in prison, the maximum penalty for human trafficking.

Lazenko said she fears for Meadows’ future.

“This was not a choice for her to come to North Dakota to work in prostitution,” Lazenko said.  “If she gets busted again or is caught in prostitution again, I guarantee it’s not her choice. Will the courts take that into consideration?”

Martin said he’s hopeful Meadows will comply with her probation.

“She struck me as a very forthright girl,” Martin said. “She has a good head on her shoulders.”

Lazenko argues that Meadows would have a better chance of rehabilitation if the court sentenced her to an out-of-state program that specializes in helping women leave a life of prostitution and sex trafficking.

“These girls don’t just walk away from the life,” said Lazenko, a sex trafficking survivor who has been assisting victims in North Dakota for two years.

Lazenko said she also believes that Fleming and Meadows were part of a larger human trafficking network and Fleming is not actually the leader of the operation.

Fleming was arrested in Las Vegas and has not yet appeared in North Dakota on the charges. Meadows will be required to testify against Fleming as part of her plea agreement.

“There’s much more to this story,” Lazenko said. “When these traffickers see that these young kids are taking the fall, they don’t care. They’ll just send another batch of young people.”

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