Man pleads not guilty to federal charges in Henrietta motel kidnapping

Cordell Brooks pleads not guilty in federal court

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The man accused of a violent kidnapping and sex trafficking case appeared in federal court Friday morning. Cordell Brooks and an accomplice are accused of forcing a woman into prostitution, and assaulting her when she tried to escape. 

In a quick appearance Friday morning, federal Court Judge Mark Pederson worked out a timeline to trial with both prosecutors and defense. The first step was securing counsel for Brooks, who initially rejected the public defender assigned to him, Wedade Abdallah. Against Abdallah’s and Kudge Pederson’s advice to stay silent, he spoke out, arguing that she “tried to get me to plead guilty to 15 years.” He eventually did accept Abdallah as counsel. 

Brooks and Shuntiayana Sims, both 27, are accused of kidnapping and assaulting a woman they had forced into sex trafficking. Sims took a plea deal in October. 

The three had been staying at a Microtel in Henrietta the morning of July 5, when the victim came to the front desk, asking for help.

Security footage shows a woman later identified as Sims dragging the victim by her hair towards the entrance of the hotel, in front of the clerk. A man later identified as Brooks can be seen picking her up and carrying her to a car. The entire time, the victim can be seen kicking and fighting to stay.

Brooks, Sims, and the victim were found later that day by police in a car together. The two have remained in custody since then.

Just after the incident, News10NBC was able to speak with the front desk clerk, who wished to remain anonymous. 

“I’ve never seen something like this happen at work,” he said at the time. “So, I didn’t really know how to react other than to call police […] It’s easy to see it from your computer chair in your living room and see it and say I would have done this; I would’ve done that! But when it’s happening in front of you it’s a lot different.”

Police later called the clerk an excellent witness, who prioritized his own safety while still getting a description of the perpetrators and the license plate of their car. 

Brooks is currently attempting to get new counsel, and will be back in court for another administrative hearing next week. Over the next few months, both sides will submit paperwork to prepare for trial. The arguments are tentatively scheduled for April 2, 2024.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing sex trafficking or domestic violence, help is out there. Monroe County offers a list of victim and witness assistance services for the Greater Rochester Area. To speak with a county advocate for victims and witnesses, call 585-753-4573 between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

There are also several 24-hour hotlines for victims of sexual assault, sex trafficking, or domestic violence. These include Restore Sexual Assault Services at 585-546-2777 and Willow Domestic Violence Center at 585-222-7233. Willow also offers a 24-hour texting hotline at 585-348-7233.