Spalding County man convicted of human trafficking of 14-year-old girl

Armed Cortez Clemmons

Booking photo courtesy of the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The Spalding County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday obtained the first human trafficking conviction in the Griffin Judicial Circuit.

District Attorney Ben Coker and Spalding County Assistant District Attorney Morgan Kendrick prosecuted the case against Armed Cortez Clemmons, who was convicted of aggravated child molestation, two counts of child molestation, sodomy, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, enticing a child for indecent purposes, pimping for persons under 18 and computer pornography.

Superior Court Judge Scott Ballard sentenced Clemmons to life plus 30 years in prison.

The victim took the stand and testified at trial. The defendant was convicted of placing advertisements for the victim, who was 14-years-old at the time and transporting her to different locations to engage in sexual acts with multiple men.

When asked if he can estimate how often this type of crime occurs in the Griffin Judicial Circuit, Coker said, “I don’t have any way of assessing that at this point. I know it occurs in our circuit, but I just don’t have any statistics at this point. I think part of that is because so many people are unwilling to come forward on this type of case because they’re so afraid of not being believed, and there’s the shame and embarrassment associated with it, as well.”

Oftentimes, trafficking victims are viewed as willing participants. Asked if she has seen a shift from that perspective, Senior Assistant District Attorney Marie Broder said, “I think there’s been a push in Georgia to stop human trafficking. Even the governor’s wife plays a role in that now and I appreciate that. This case was investigated by the GBI and I know they’re working very hard to fight human trafficking, so yes, I 100 percent see that tide turning. This 14-year-old little girl can’t make decisions like that. She was totally manipulated by this man. I know it was a matter of multiple weeks.”

She then addressed the victim in this case, who, as a child, was unable to give consent.

“The age of consent in Georgia is 16. This man, I mean, he was 25-years-old, so he was a man. She was a child. I am just so proud of her. This was such a hard case,” Broder said. “I think it’s important for the public to understand that this is something that impacts our community and cities all across Georgia, and the only way to stop it is to send a message like this jury did. They only deliberated for about 30 minutes.”

Kendrick said she is grateful for the jury in this complex case.

“The investigation began in 2016. We didn’t want to overload the jury with too much, but we wanted to make sure they had what they needed. We’re so thankful, too. I’m thankful we were able to present the case in a way so the jury saw what we saw because there was a lot to this case,” Kendrick said. “The feedback from the jury is the reason it took such a short period of time to deliberate is that they had what they needed – they were able to connect the dots – and reach the verdicts on the indictment. The one juror that I talked to basically said thank you for getting this guy off the streets, so that was her feedback.”

Kendrick said this case indicates that human trafficking – a crime some view as one that occurs elsewhere – is happening in this community.

“This is something that’s here. It’s in Griffin. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news or in the movies or on tv, but it’s here. It’s impacting our children. That’s why this was so important to me,” she stressed. “This is about our children, and it has to stop. The people who are doing this need to be held accountable. People need to know that we will do what it takes to keep our children safe in this community.”

Kendrick encourages parents to maintain close relationships with their children and to be aware of what is going on in their lives.

“I guess really the best advice is to try to be there for your kids. Stay involved and be mindful of who they’re with. A lot of times, parents may know who their child is hanging out with, but not know them, especially if there’s a big age difference,” she said.

The GBI investigation in this case began when the victim’s father noticed a high rate of activity on his daughter’s cell phone.

“In this case, when the father got ahold of her cell phone, he looked at some of these messages and thought, ‘Wow. What is going on here?’” Kendrick said. “If something raises a red flag, look into it. That’s okay. You’re not always being a bad parent if you’re not being their friend. Sometimes you do have to inspect and look into what situations your child may be in. I’m really thankful for the steps the father of the child in this case took. It showed such attentiveness.”

She also expressed gratitude for all who were involved in this challenging case.

“I hope today’s verdict sends a strong message to our community that this behavior will not be tolerated in the Griffin Judicial Circuit. Children deserve to be protected, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure all children are safe from predators. I’m incredibly thankful for the hard work and dedication of our team, especially our victim advocate Denise Miller, investigator John Wright, legal assistant Jessica Smith, and GBI Special Agent Trisha Cannon,” she said. “I would also like to thank District Attorney Coker for his steadfast courage in prosecuting these cases and protecting the children of our Circuit.”

Coker reiterated his office’s determination to defend the defenseless.

“It was a very good verdict in a very hard case. I think the jury verdict and the fact they came back so quickly with the verdict, it really solidified her story. I hope that the fact that not only the GBI and my office believe in here, but 13 jurors did, too, will help her. She was clearly exploited by this individual,” Coker said. “We speak for those that can’t speak. We have to believe in our victims. This kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated. There’s a big legislative push…and for this to be the first trial in our circuit, I think the verdict and the sentence sends a message. At least I hope it does.”

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