Two teenage runaways from Conyers heard Shaela Latrece Chatman could help them make money, a Gwinnett County investigator testified in magistrate court Wednesday. But investigators say the girls didn’t realize they would be forced into prostitution in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.
Chatman, 21, of Riverdale, was arrested Jan. 13 on charges of sex trafficking, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and theft by receiving. The investigation is still underway, but Chatman has claimed she didn’t know anything about the alleged sex trafficking, her lawyer, Wesley Person, said. At a hearing Wednesday in Gwinnett County Magistrate Court, a judge found probable cause for charges of sex trafficking and contributing to the delinquency of a minor made against Chatman to go forward. The theft by receiving charge was dismissed.
Chatman faces two charges of trafficking a person for sexual servitude and contributing to the delinquency of a minor for each of the two teens. But the theft charge was dismissed by Magistrate Judge Kim Gallant due to lack of evidence.
Gwinnett County police do not believe the case has any connection to the upcoming Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in Atlanta, but law enforcement have cautioned the surge of visitors can also present a surge in opportunity for the crime.
Chatman met the two girls, ages 14 and 15, through a mutual friend on Instagram in the days just after Christmas, Investigator Rachel Dale said in the hearing. The girls had run away on Dec. 26 and met Chatman in person by Dec. 28, Dale said. Once they arrived at Chatman’s DeKalb County apartment, Chatman had them strip down to their underwear and pose for photos on a bed, Dale said.
Chatman posted the photos of the girls on websites including online dating site PlentyOfFish, Dale said, and arranged for meetings with men she referred to as “plays.” Chatman would drive both girls to a location, tell them how long they should spend with a man and how much money to collect, and give them a condom, Dale said. After they were done, the girls would have to give Chatman half the money that they had made. The meetings occurred in multiple locations in Gwinnett and DeKalb between Dec. 28 and Jan. 13, Dale said.
On Jan. 13 a man called 911 and said he was threatened with a gun after refusing to pay for sex. Soon after, police stopped Chatman and the two girls in a car that matched a description the 911 caller provided.
Chatman told police that she knew the girls were working as prostitutes, and she was being paid to drive them to meet with clients. She said she thought the girls were both 17, a year older than Georgia’s age of consent, but conceded they looked young, Dale said.
Investigators later found that Chatman posted multiple ads with the teenage girls’ photos online. The girls told police that Chatman had told them to get their hair done in order to look older, Dale said.
Chatman’s attoney, Person, argued that the evidence against Chatman was thin, in part because the man who called 911 never paid for sex and denied having sexual contact with either of the girls.
“There is not sufficient evidence to support the claim that any trafficking occurred in Gwinnett County,” Person said.
Person asked for a $10,000 bond for Chatman, who is seven months pregnant, citing health care concerns. Gallant denied that request, saying Chatman is a potential danger to the alleged victims and the community. Chatman will continue to be held without bond at the Gwinnett County Detention Center. The two alleged victims are now in the custody of the state.
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