By Jackie Snyder and Haroutun Bejanyan
The trial of Mark Riddick began on July 14, 2015. Riddick was charged with pimping and pandering after he allegedly propositioned a police officer, undercover as a prostitute. The trial was expected to be quick as it appeared that Deputy District Attorney Michael Favero had few witnesses scheduled to testify.
The first, and possibly the only, witness DDA Favero called to testify was Alisha Slater, a police officer employed through the city of West Sacramento. Slater testified that at the time of Riddick’s arrest, in July of 2013, she was a part of Yolo County’s narcotics enforcement task force, YONET. Slater stated that during her involvement with YONET she took part in operations which required her to go undercover as a prostitute.
On July 2, 2013, Slater testified that she went undercover as a prostitute, working West Capitol Ave. in West Sacramento, an area which is often frequented by prostitutes. Slater stated she made contact with the defendant, who was driving eastbound in a silver sedan, by making a nodding motion with her head.
She then stated that he tapped his brakes and circled around. Slater explained to the jury that, during her time as an undercover prostitute, she had learned certain signals that were common among prostitutes and their customers. A nod of the head, according to Slater, was one of the signals often used.
She also claimed that individuals interested in a prostitute’s services would often circle around the area the prostitute was occupying before finally working up enough nerve to proposition the prostitute.
Slater then testified that the defendant pulled into the motel (where Slater was located) and parked in a carport. She walked up to the defendant’s vehicle and asked if he were “looking for her.” Slater then asked the defendant “what he wanted” and offered to give him oral sex for $20. The defendant then replied that he was not looking for that (oral sex). After, what Slater claimed to be a long pause, she told the defendant she had to get back to work.
The defendant then engaged her in conversation, asking her if she used methamphetamine and warning her against the drug. He also asked her about working on the internet and in San Francisco. Slater testified that she felt the defendant was interested in being her pimp. He made statements along the lines of “it is not safe out here.”
She interpreted these statements to mean she would benefit from his protection. She explained to the jury that this was often a duty of a pimp, to provide protection. Slater then took down his phone number and told him she would speak to him later.
Approximately a hour later Slater made contact with the defendant via text message. She asked him if he could get her any methamphetamine. He then told her to “use her head,” asking her if she had noticed the physical appearance of others who frequently used the drug. They both then made the decision to meet up once again. The defendant later pulled up to a gas station, near the hotel Slater where was located. Slater notified her team and the defendant was then arrested.
The defendant made the decision to take the witness stand and testify. When asked why he made contact with Slater, he claimed that he thought she was flagging him down. He testified she was waving her hands as he drove by and he felt she looked out of place. He then made the decision to turn his vehicle around to make sure she was okay. The defendant stated he had no interest in her services. This is precisely why, when he was offered oral sex for $20, he declined.
When the court resumed after the afternoon lunch recess, defendant Mark Riddick found himself on the stand testifying to his innocence of the crime of pandering. Earlier in the trial, the prosecution had presented to the jury, as evidence, recorded audio of a conversation between Riddick and the undercover policewoman Alisha Slater, who had been posing as a prostitute on West Capitol Ave.
Riddick had given her his number during their conversation, which led to an exchange of text messages that were also included as evidence. Riddick’s defense attorney, James Warden, initiated the cross-examination by asking the defendant to recount the conversation, with context to give a better understanding of his intent.
Claiming that it was all a misunderstanding by police, Riddick stated that he was a religious man seeking to help a young woman who looked as though she was in distress. According to Riddick, his initial encounter with Alisha occurred when she flagged him down while he was driving down West Capitol Ave.
Striking him as someone in need of assistance, he pulled over to talk to her. Riddick provided a different story to account for some of the key phrases that the prosecution highlighted in the recording as proof of pandering.
When Slater said she usually “worked” on Watt Ave. and asked if Riddick knew of any “work,” he warned her about working in that area and asked if she had been to San Francisco. Then he asked her if she had ever worked on the internet before.
She responded by asking how much they would be making working together, to which Riddick testified that he himself never mentioned working together with Alisha and was confused by her question about money.
Finally, he gave her his number before leaving and told her to give him a call if she ever wanted to get out of there. Whereas the prosecution pointed out these key phrases as strong evidence to suggest the illegal act of pandering, Riddick denied any such intention.
Instead, he asserted that his true intention, as a Good Samaritan, was to get her out of that area because it was not safe for her. His reasoning behind giving Slater his number was so he could talk to her about St. Johns and getting help through the organization, which he claimed he worked with.
When confronted by the prosecuting attorney about an additional phrase, “Do you wanna make some money?” that was recorded during the interaction, Riddick boldly denied he ever spoke the phrase, despite his voice being heard in the audio recording.
Not acknowledging that the audio was consistent with his reality, he suggested the audio might have been altered. Although these phrases may have been heard in the recording, the audio overall was of poor quality.
Some explicit talk of oral sex was indicated in the transcript, but was ambiguously unclear in the recording itself, raising doubt about whether it was interpreted correctly. The text messages did not contain any specifically incriminating terminology pertaining to pandering, and were vague in their wording.
For instance, when Slater had texted Riddick from a motel informing him that she felt unsafe, he responded by ensuring her that he could come to her aid and she would be in good hands.
There is no doubt that this can be interpreted to indicate the service of “prostitute protection” according to the prosecution, but, as the defense pointed out, the lack of any definitive terms leaves it open to alternative interpretations.
In the text messages, Slater did explicitly ask Riddick if he had any methamphetamine to offer, however, he replied by advising her not to use the drug. Although there is enough evidence to raise suspicions of the possibility of pandering, the jury faces a difficult decision in determining whether the evidence is adequate enough to prove beyond reasonable doubt either count 1 of pandering or count 2 of attempted pandering.