Pair arrested in Fresno linked to human trafficking in Merced

A man and a woman were arrested in Fresno on Thursday night in connection with human trafficking activity in Merced, the Merced Police Department reported.

Samuel Packard, 31, and Ashley Gonzalez, 21, have been booked in Fresno County on charges of kidnapping, human trafficking and pandering a minor, Sgt. Donald King said in a press release. The pair will be transferred to Merced for prosecution.

According to the report, officers from the Merced Police Department’s Disruptive Area Response Team were working on the 1300 block of West 16th Street on Wednesday at 5:13 p.m., when they noticed two females who appeared to be soliciting for purposes of prostitution.

During the investigation, officers learned that one of the females was a juvenile who was listed as a runaway from out of county.

The second female was identified as Gonzalez, who appeared to be engaging in the same type of activity, police said. Officers also interviewed Packard, who was found in the same area. The two adults were released initially, but the juvenile was turned over to child protective services.

Police learned the juvenile allegedly was taken against her will by Packard and Gonzalez, who forced the girl to work as a prostitute in Merced, according to the report. Merced officers obtained arrest warrants for Packard and Gonzalez, who both live in Fresno County.

With the assistance of the Fresno Police Department, the Merced officers were able to track down both Gonzalez and Packard in a Fresno area motel about 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

A few Merced officers and investigators recently attended training on human trafficking, presented by the Human Services Agency and Carissa Phelps, who focuses on awareness, prevention and intervention in cases of commercially sexually exploited children.