The meeting was set up, but not in an “are you available” fashion. The communications officer simply said when it would be.
I arrived at SeaTac City Hall on time, then sat outside a locked door observing a receptionist behind thick glass. Waiting. It was December 4. A mini-summit was happening behind closed doors.
He started talking to them, listening to their stories, and came to realize for many they didn’t have a choice; they were living in fear, being run by pimps.
Prior to my request to report on their department’s work on domestic minor sex trafficking, a commercial video production team had worked with them on the same subject. And it got messy. If I were to over-simplify, I would say the film crew got too involved. So when I asked about documenting the work of the department, I felt the need to underscore that I am a journalist, not a participant. I observe.
That was in September, and I was growing nervous about being able to tell the story I had proposed for the grant. There was an internal investigation and media policies were being revised; I might not have the access I thought.
My proposal is based on the story of a cop who creates a shelter for prostitutes. He was exasperated by prison’s revolving door. Because some were asking for it, he wanted to find a way to help get the women and young girls he was arresting out of “the life.” He started talking to them, listening to their stories, and came to realize for many they didn’t have a choice; they were living in fear, being run by pimps.
There weren’t many places to send the girls, so he started a drop in center he hopes to expand to long term safe housing combined with counseling, education, job training, and whatever else it will take to help restore the survivors’ confidence in themselves. It currently operates on a shoestring budget and volunteer hours. I saw the story as a unique marriage of law enforcement and social services, a rare thing in this field.
The wait for access was worth it, and it appears I have an ally, not only in my subject, Sheriff Deputy Andy Conner and the Street Crimes Unit, but in the Major himself.
Major James Graddon, Chief of Police, City of SeaTac was the last task force commander for the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway. He plead guilty to killing 49 women, many who were underage prostitutes.
Graddon stopped by after my meeting with the captain, communications officer, and the Street Crimes unit. Small of stature, crisp in his movement, and dressed like an office worker, with the addition of a badge and gun on his belt, he shook my hand warmly. And then he offered his support for my endeavor with the Alexia Women’s Initiative Grant.
“We can’t do another Ridgeway,” he said. “No one should have to suffer through that. Ever.”
Read more about Graddon and Ridgeway below. Excerpted from this article in the SeaTac blog.
“Graddon was the last team leader of the Green River murders taskforce. It was during the 2001 “arrest phase.”
“Once we got Gary Ridgway into custody – we did that all as a very clandestine operation – we grew our task force to include prosecutors,” he says.
“For about a year, through the course of the secret plea agreements, having Gary live with us for six months in our ‘bunker’ down at Boeing Field – ‘bunker’ was the nickname we had for our office – literally living with Ridgway 24/7 for 188 days.
“Irrespective of what I would think of him on an emotional level … we had a job to do. We needed to be there for the victim’s families,” Graddon says.
“We don’t have enough time now to describe what it is to listen to Gary Ridgway talk about the murder of – pick a number – he is charged with and plead guilty to 49 and he claims a host more than that.
“To listen to him over the period of hundreds of hours of interviews, watching my team work with him, watching the search teams go out and do what they (had to do) and, on occasion, going out with them, we simply had to be focused on the job we were doing. We didn’t have time to think about it on an emotional level, yet there is a huge psychological and emotional level to it all.”
“Leaving the Life” is a documentary project by Tim Matsui on grassroots efforts to address Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST). This project is funded by the Alexa Foundation’s Women’s Initiative Grant. See more posts from this project here.