SEATTLE - A defendant accused of vicious sex-trafficking in Seattle pleaded not guilty Thursday in a case that came to light after prosecutors say a 20-year-old woman was rescued by a ride-share driver who engaged in a gunfight with the man.
Winston Burt, 30, who uses the street name "Dice Capone," appeared in King County Superior Court and was ordered to remain held on $750,000 bail for charges that include human trafficking, promoting prostitution, assault and drive-by shooting. The U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle is also reviewing the case for potential federal charges.
His attorney, Court Will, declined to comment on the case.
Police and prosecutors said Burt brought three women to Seattle about a month ago after trafficking them in California and Arizona, and he recruited additional women to "work" for him after arriving. At least two had his street name tattooed on their faces as a sort of brand, authorities said.
They stayed in a $1.4 million, six-bedroom home near Seward Park in south Seattle, and Burt would drive them to a stretch of Aurora Avenue North where sex work is common. The women were expected to each earn him $2,000 per day, while he provided them with clothes, food and drugs, prosecutors said.
But after two of the women expressed a desire to quit, Burt began severely beating and pistol-whipping them and forcing the others to participate in the assaults, prosecutors said.
One of the women, a 20-year-old, tried to escape on Nov. 5 by jumping nearly naked out a third-floor window of the rental home after Burt chased her up the stairs, senior deputy King County prosecutor Benjamin Gauen wrote in charging papers.
She landed on the ground, hobbled into the street and flagged down two women in a passing car. As she spoke to them, the other young women came outside, saying that the woman was "off her medication, that she was having an episode, and that she would be okay," Seattle Police Detective Tammie Case wrote in an incident report.
The others forced the victim into Burt’s white Mercedes, telling the women who had stopped to help that they were taking her to a hospital. Instead, Burt drove them to the Emerald Motel on Aurora Avenue, where they had been previously trafficked, the charging papers said. Burt sent the others into the motel while the victim., still wearing only her underwear, remained in the vehicle with him.
At around 9 p.m. she managed to escape from the car and ran across the busy six-lane road, trying to flag down someone to help her. Initially, no one stopped, and she sat in the middle of the street.
"[REDACTED] felt safer in the middle of a busy highway, practically naked, at night than being within arm’s reach of the defendant," Gauen wrote. "Surveillance video from a nearby business has corroborated [REDACTED]'s account of what happened."
A ride-share driver in a van finally picked her up, but Burt pursued them, shooting, Gauen wrote. The ride-share driver was also armed and fired back over several blocks until he was able to get onto Interstate 5 and meet police at a gas station. No one appears to have been struck by the bullets, but the van’s windshield was riddled with holes.
The woman was taken to a hospital with injuries including black eyes, broken ribs, a broken leg and spinal injuries.
Burt was arrested soon after as he was leaving the rental home in his Mercedes with three other women inside. Those women were arrested with him but not booked into jail, and no charges have been filed against them, said Detective Valerie Carson, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Police Department. In court papers, prosecutors referred to them as victims.
The three attended Burt’s arraignment Thursday, telling his attorney they were there to support him. They objected to a no-contact order that Judge Karen Donohue entered, prohibiting Burt from being in touch with them. The three declined to speak with The Associated Press.
Burt’s mother, Nicole Jones, also attended. After the hearing, she complained of portrayals of her son in news reports.
"You guys are painting a picture of my son being a monster," Jones said. "But actually, if you read the Bible, Proverbs 7:1-27, that’s what this case is about."
The verses caution men to avoid the "mysterious woman" or "adulteress" "dressed like a prostitute who would lead them to doom." Jones declined to comment further.