Pender man charged with human trafficking involving woman, baby

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PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — A Pender County man is behind bars charged with several crimes, including human trafficking.

According to a news release, the Pender County Sheriff’s Office says it got a 911 call on Friday, August 9, from a woman reporting that she was being held against her will at an address on NC 11 in Willard. Deputies responded and charged James Bryan Peterson, 54, with two counts of assault on a female, one count of sexual battery and one count of assault by pointing a gun.

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Investigators say the 24-year-old alleged victim had an 8-month-old baby with her at the home.

“I was shocked,” next door neighbor Ashley Gurganus said. “You don’t expect stuff like that to happen around here. And then to find out it’s pretty much your neighbor, it’s very scary.”

Peterson was held in the Pender County Jail under a $20,000 secured bond. He posted bond and was released from jail Saturday.



Investigators say they then executed a search warrant at Peterson’s home as part of investigation. After that they charged Peterson for additional crimes including one count of human trafficking adult victim, one count of human trafficking child victim, one count of first-degree kidnapping, one count of involuntary servitude, one count of sexual servitude, one count of felonious restraint and one count of second-degree kidnapping.

“A search warrant was conducted of his residence,” Pender County Sheriff Alan Cutler said. “His home. Additional charges were made today. One count of human trafficking of an adult and one count of human trafficking of a child.”

Neighbors say there was a solar panel company behind Peterson’s house, so it was normal to see people going in and out.

“I think he kind of, maybe kept to himself, Gurganus said. “I never really saw him in and out much. You just usually here it happening far away or across seas. Something like that. But when it happens in your hometown, you just can’t believe it.”

District Attorney Ben David explains what goes into filing charges for involuntary servitude and sexual servitude.

“Trafficking can be in the form of servitude in the form of working without being adequately compensated, and essentially being held in what amounts to human slavery,” David said. “Then there’s also a component that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in various cases that involve a sexual component.”

Peterson is being held under a $2 million bond at the Pender County Jail. He is scheduled to have a first appearance on these charges Tuesday.

The sheriff’s office says the investigation continues.

Anyone with information concerning this case is asked to contact the Pender County Sheriff’s Office at (910) 259-1212