#childpredator | Sandusky County agencies warn vigilante groups may help sexual predators

State statute gives law enforcement teeth to take action against those who prey on underage youth, or those who attempt to prey on law enforcement posing as underage youth. But it doesn’t account for the so-called “Dads Against Predators” group that has been posing as a 14-year-old boy online in an attempt to lure out predators, set up meetings, and then videotape the men who show up.

“There are significant evidentiary concerns with cases if they are created in a way that doesn’t follow the statute,” acting Sandusky County Prosecutor Zachary Selvey said at a news conference in front of the Fremont police station Thursday.

The Dads group used the ploy to confront three suspected predators in 24 hours who they accuse of soliciting sexual acts from their fake online account. Three videos posted to a YouTube channel in the group’s name show some of the explicit texting conversations and the reactions of the men when confronted.

Two of the videos have been viewed more than 71,000 times, including one that appears to show the group confronting a man at a Fremont Walmart about 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

He has since been arrested, but not related to importuning a child.

Fremont police announced they had a person in custody for violating his work visa and tampering with evidence, though Fremont Police Chief Dean Bliss declined to go into detail about the evidence.

Two other men shown in different videos posted to the YouTube account also have been identified but no charges have been filed against them as of Thursday. Investigations are ongoing, Chief Bliss said.

While Chief Bliss called the videos “shocking” and commended the Dads group for shining a light “on something we need to focus on collaboratively,” he also urged them to leave investigations to law enforcement.

“Area law enforcement does not condone citizens taking matters into their own hands or being vigilantes,” Chief Bliss said. “We believe it can jeopardize the safety of those conducting these activities, the people directly involved or that of an innocent bystander.

“Believe me, I want these people prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he continued, “However, I want the investigations to be done correctly and be prosecutable if the case was to go to trial.”

And though the videos of the amateur stings may not be criminal in themselves, they may be helping criminals, Sandusky County Sheriff Chris Hilton warned. Improper investigations could allow offenders to avoid charges and move on to other communities to find new victims.

“My fear is, by doing these types of things, they’re going to stir up a hornets nest and all they’re really doing is exposing these people and maybe embarrassing them and then they walk free,” Sheriff Hilton said.

Chief Bliss said he has “advised” the dad group to stop their activities, but there is no indication the group intends to.

They started a GoFundMe account to buy microphone equipment and cameras “to get better videos for the (YouTube) channel,” the funding page says. Two contributors had raised $70 toward the $1,000 goal as of Thursday afternoon.

Members of the group did not respond to requests for comments but wrote on their YouTube channel that they’re “focused on protecting the youth from dangers online that police and parents may be unaware of.”

Agencies promised they will take over exposing predators, if citizens will leave the police work to them.

“The sheriff and I met today…and I’m confident we’re going to come up with a plan to proactively fight this,” Chief Bliss said.

While details of that plan were not discussed, he indicated it could include increased policing efforts and an educational campaign at area schools about online safety. Agencies also are encouraging parents to keep track of the social media sites and applications their children use, including having passwords to all of their accounts.

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