LENEXA, Kan. -- Good police work is being credited for getting an alleged human trafficker off the streets of Johnson County.
Det. Shannon Leeper, of the Lenexa Police Department, is one of two officers the department praised for their recent work that landed a human trafficking suspect in jail.
“The misconception is that these things don’t happen here in Johnson County, Kansas, and in fact they do,” Leeper said.
Earlier this month, Leeper’s colleague, Officer Christine Reglin pulled over a driver on Lenexa Drive for a routine traffic stop. It was 4:30 a.m., and inside the vehicle was a man, woman and teenage girl.
Reglin had a feeling something was off.
“There was some concern as to why would we have a teenage girl in this car at this time of day with two unknown, unrelated people,” Leeper said.
The area they were in also raised red flags.
“We’re trained to keep an eye on certain areas and that would be our hotel or motel district, things in the middle of the night. You’ve heard nothing good happens after midnight,” Leeper said.
Leeper said Reglin followed her “gut instinct,” and after individually interviewing the people in the car, she determined the teenage girl was a victim of human trafficking.
“She did everything right from the minute of the stop,” Leeper said.
Antonio Flemming, 36 of Overland Park, was arrested and charged with aggravated human trafficking and child exploitation.
Leeper continues to work the investigation but said human trafficking cases aren’t easy to piece together.
“They’re pretty good about hiding the methods and how they exchange money, how they communicate,” Leeper said. “It’s all underground.”
Getting victims to open up about the truth also makes it challenging.
“Sometimes that’s out of fear or sometimes they may not see themselves as a victim,” she added.
Leeper couldn’t comment on how the teenage victim in this case ended up with Flemming, but she said often times offenders use social media to target minors.
“They’re reaching out and they’re making connections with these young vulnerable girls that oftentimes have their own challenges in their life, and so they begin a grooming process,” Leeper said.
She said human trafficking is a real problem that parents need to be on the lookout for to keep their children from becoming a victim.
“Just get to know your kids, be available for them and be present because these traffickers and offenders -- they’re really good at what they do, and it’s easy to manipulate these young people,” Leeper said.
Lenexa police also partners with the Innocence Lost Task Force and the FBI to help combat human trafficking.
Flemming is due in court on Thursday.