When her 15-year-old daughter ran away, a Tacoma mom refused to sit around worrying and waiting for her to be found.
Police recommended the mom keep an eye on advertisements on websites like Backpage.com and Craigslist, so she did.
On Thursday, she spotted her daughter’s face in an ad. She called the number listed. The man on the other line told her $200 would buy her “good sex” with the girl, according to court records.
The daughter later came home and told her mom she’d spent the last two weeks being pimped out by two men.
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The mom browsed their social media accounts before calling to report what her daughter had been through. When the police didn’t act quickly enough for her taste, she took matters into her own hands, court records show.
She “was dissatisfied with the speed of the police response, so she decided to drive out to the motel to confront the two men that (her daughter) had identified to her as the pimps,” charging papers state.
When mom arrived, she recognized a Chevy Impala from one of the men’s Facebook pages. She then called police to the motel and pointed out the car.
Inside the vehicle was Curtis Escalante, 23, a 16-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman. Escalante was allegedly holding a cell phone with the same number linked to the runaway’s advertisement and the same phone number used in several other ads depicting young women, police said.
The 16-year-old girl, who police believe also was prostituted, refused to speak with officers. She was booked at Remann Hall Juvenile Detention Center.
The 18-year-old told police Escalante and his associate, Mikael Williams, tried to lure her into prostitution but she refused.
Pierce County prosecutors since have charged Escalante with two counts of first-degree human trafficking, first-degree kidnapping, intimidating a witness, two counts of promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor, second-degree promoting prostitution and third-degree child molestation. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held in lieu of $2 million.
A warrant has been issued for Williams, who faces similar charges. The 18-year-old Spanaway man’s whereabouts are unknown.
The 15-year-old runaway said she and the other teen met the men online and were taken out to a nice dinner on the Ruston Way waterfront. Escalante and Williams then brought the girls to a motel, took partially nude photographs of them for the advertisements and began selling them for sex.
“Escalante promised her money for shopping, clothes and hair appointments and gave her alcohol and ‘weed,’” court records show.
Williams is accused of renting the motel rooms. Escalante allegedly arranged the girls’ meetings with johns.
The teens said they were taken to Tacoma, Lacey, Federal Way, Burien and Spanaway to have sex with men.
The 15-year-old “said the defendants threatened to kill her if she ever went to the police about them, and that she was physically beaten by them with open hand slaps and pulling of her hair.”
When interviewed by detectives, Escalante denied any involvement in prostitution and insisted he worked as a landscaper.
Escalante was released from prison in November after serving time for a conviction for second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, a state Department of Corrections spokesman said. He was supposed to remain behind bars until March but got out early for good behavior.
That conviction stemmed from a run-in with Tacoma police in February.
In that case, an officer tried to stop Escalante for jaywalking but Escalante ran. As the officer chased him down the alley in his patrol car, the officer saw Escalante drop a handgun. The officer struck Escalante with his patrol car after he said he saw him reach for his waistband a second time.
In October, Escalante wrote a letter to the court appealing for leniency.
“This prison experience has caused me to examine my life and the poor decisions I have made,” he wrote. “Knowing that I am young and have an opportunity upon release to change my life has given me hope. I am committed to making a real change in my life and need your help.”
His prior convictions include attempted burglary, residential burglary, unlawful possession of a firearm and taking a motor vehicle without permission.
Within weeks, Escalante was back behind bars.