The family of a 15-year-old girl who went missing at a Dallas Mavericks game in April and was later found being prostituted at an Oklahoma City hotel says multiple organizations were negligent in preventing the situation from escalating.
Zeke Fortenberry, an attorney who is representing the family after the incident, sent a letter to the Dallas Police Department, the American Airlines Center, the Dallas Mavericks and Extended Stay America saying that their actions or policies failed the victim and her family.
On April 8, the girl and her father, who are from North Richland Hills, attended the Mavericks game at the American Airlines Center. Just before halftime, the daughter went to use the restroom but did not return.
The father immediately notified American Airlines Center staff and Dallas police officers of her disappearance, according to Fortenberry’s letter.
By the time the game ended, the girl had not been found, and police told the father to return to his home, Fortenberry said.
Over several days, the family called the Dallas Police Department for help in locating their daughter. Fortenberry said Dallas police never began an investigation and failed to make any efforts to locate the teenage girl.
The family turned to a nonprofit organization, the Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative, and they found that the girl was being advertised and sold for sex in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City police found that she was being held at an Extended Stay America hotel and made arrests and recovered the girl on April 18. Eight people were arrested on charges including human trafficking, distribution of child pornography and rape.
Fortenberry said there were multiple steps along the way that could have prevented the incident.
He said the man that lured the teenage girl from the game found her in an area inside the center that he did not have a valid ticket to be in, and that the fraudulent ticket that the man had been provided by an individual known to the Dallas Mavericks and American Airlines Center as a seller of fraudulent tickets.
“The Dallas Mavericks and the AAC failed to protect the victim from the man with the illegal ticket in a restricted area,” Fortenberry said.
The letter also claims that Dallas police refused to investigate the case, despite the family immediately reporting the disappearance and continuously calling the department.
The Dallas Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Representatives for the Mavericks, American Airlines Center and the hotel could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a WFAA-TV report, Dallas police said the arena was searched, and shared this about protocol for these situations: “Texas Family Code (51.03 b. 3) dictates that missing juveniles are investigated as runaways unless there are circumstances which appear as involuntary such as a kidnapping or abduction. Those cases per code are to be filed where the juvenile resides. ”
Dallas police told WFAA that they assisted North Richland Hills police, who entered the victim into a national missing person database, and created a bulletin that went out to the department on April 11.
Fortenberry said the incident should not have been handled as a runaway.
“That’s not the case here,” he said. “She went missing at a sporting event.”
Surveillance video showed the girl leaving the center with a man.
The attorney’s letter says that a registered sex offender used a false name and false ID to rent multiple hotel rooms in the Extended Stay Hotel in Oklahoma City. The teen was held at the hotel for multiple nights and was sexually assaulted there.
Fortenberry said there were textbook signs of human trafficking at the hotel and employees should be trained and should respond to those red flags.
“It’s a series of failures that ultimately led to this,” Fortenberry said.
Fortenberry said the letter he sent to those entities was to initiate a conversation and ensure that policies or actions are changed within these organizations to make sure that a similar incident can be prevented.
He said his firm is giving each organization about 30 days to respond to the letter before taking any kind of legal action.