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When she came back to him two days later, he forced her take off her clothes and step into a dark closet, which he blocked with a dresser. He then began dropping bullets on the floor, saying one of them would be for her unless she turned over hundreds of dollars he claimed she owed him. The girl said she had money for him at an aunt's house. That was a lie. Instead, they drove to a random home on 65th Avenue, parked, and the girl approached the house — but then ran and jumped a fence. She hid in a neighbor's home, where she was able to call her mother.
At this point, Leneka Pendergrass was determined to break the cycle: She again called BAWAR.
First Help, Then Betrayal
Bay Area Women Against Rape was founded in 1971 and is considered by California Attorney General Kamala Harris to be the lead East Bay nonprofit organization in the state's Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. The organization receives most of its funding from government grants, including payments from the City of Oakland, the Alameda County DA, and state agencies such as the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. Between 2009 and 2014, the nonprofit took in more than $3 million in donations, according to the most recent reports with the Internal Revenue Service.
BAWAR works closely with Oakland police. Its staff speaks to officers at their line-ups before they go on shift, to educate them about child sex trafficking. And BAWAR employees, including Mims while he worked there from 2010 to 2014, accompany Oakland cops on their anti-human-trafficking sting operations.
By many accounts, BAWAR is a model organization. And Mims' own story is one of redemption: He's a former convict who found a new path after serving decades of hard time. In an interview published in the March 2013 Prison University Project newsletter, Mims discussed his rough upbringing, where he dropped out of high school in ninth grade and escaped an abusive father in Berkeley. "I ran to the streets, which was the only place that would embrace me at the time," Mims said in that interview.
According to court documents, Mims was sentenced to twenty years in San Quentin State Prison for stabbing a man to death in San Diego during a drug deal in 1988. He was released in 2009. Prior to his murder conviction, Mims' life was characterized by an "escalating pattern of criminal conduct and violence," according to court records. He had been charged for robbery with a deadly weapon, accessory to a burglary, carrying a concealed firearm, and assault on a peace officer. But in prison, by many accounts, Mims became a leading advocate for prisoner rehabilitation and education.
Mims met BAWAR executive director Marcia Blackstock while serving his sentence in San Quentin. She was impressed with his transformation and hired him to help develop the nonprofit's Sexually Exploited Minors program, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report from 2014.
Accolades quickly followed. On January 30, 2014, Mims and three other BAWAR representatives were presented with the FBI's Community Leadership Award by the head of the Bureau's San Francisco office, David J. Johnson. "We are proud to recognize BAWAR for their selfless service of bridging communication voids left by victimization," Johnson said in a press release. Mims also won the 2014 Stewardship Award from Freedom House, a San Francisco-based group that supports survivors of sex trafficking.
However, Mims' criminal history wasn't disclosed to OPD until 2013, when officers in the special-victims unit, which refers human-trafficking survivors to BAWAR and other nonprofits, were tipped off about his murder conviction.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley was aware of Mims' past, and had signed off on his hire, according to law-enforcement sources.
Some protested Mims' employment at BAWAR. "We were all surprised when he was hired," said Nola Brantley, the founder of Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting & Serving Sexually Exploited Youth, or MISSSEY, a nonprofit that works with sexually exploited children. "Lots of us said that we didn't think it was appropriate to have a male working with women and kids." But Brantley said her concerns, and those of other advocates, were brushed aside by BAWAR and East Bay law-enforcement agencies such as the Alameda County District Attorney.
Pendergrass says she first met Mims in 2012, after cops arrested her daughter during a prostitution sting in East Oakland. At the time, he was working closely with OPD on the front lines of the department's anti-human-trafficking initiative. BAWAR had become the East Bay's leading anti-trafficking nonprofit, a place where OPD and the Alameda County District Attorney directed child survivors for counseling and protection.
Although she had only met Mims in passing, Pendergrass felt he had made a positive impact on her daughter; Mims taught her at a court-ordered, girls-education program run by BAWAR on Saturdays in 2012.
This was why, after her daughter escaped her pimp in January 2014 — when Pendergrass was determined to make a break in this cycle — she called Mims. The day after her daughter's harrowing escape, the family met with him at BAWAR. Pendergrass says he had brought in an Oakland police officer to take the girl's statement.
"It felt very different from the first time we went to OPD by ourselves to file a report," Pendergrass explained about their visit to OPD the previous day. "At BAWAR, it seemed like the police took us more seriously. They recorded our statements and interviewed us for over an hour."