In cities across the nation, everyday civilians are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to catching suspected online child predators.
Youtube is littered with videos of vigilantes cornering, disgracing, and live broadcasting encounters with suspected pedophiles.
Just last month, we introduced you to a Houstonian, Lucian McCloud—an alias he says he uses to protect himself from predators who may seek revenge after being exposed during one of his stings. He also says he wants the focus of his mission to be about justice for victims of sexual predators, not him. He runs a Facebook page called Motor City Justice. With 25,000 likes, people seem to jive with this brand of justice.
Going too far or justice by any means?
Though he conceals his face during our television interviews, when he confronts the alleged predators, the confrontation is face-to-face. He wears no mask or disguise, and comes armed only with his cell phone set to live stream what he calls “the exposure,” to his thousands of Facebook followers.
In a rare and dangerous move—after a public meeting failed to materialize—Lucian went to the home of a man who had been chatting and talking with someone who he thought was a 15-year-old girl. Recorded phone calls of the man talking with one of the decoys from Lucian’s team capture a 62-year old man complimenting the decoy who was posing as a 15-year-old.
“Honey, look in the mirror. You are a very attractive young lady.”
Lucian livestreams his meeting with the man.
“You're a registered sex offender. What the f** are you thinking? What's your problem now,” a heated Lucian can be heard saying.
Remarkably, the target lights a cigarette, has a seat and tries to explain his way out. All while his own elderly mother is just off camera asking her own questions about what was going on. She was surprised to learn her son was on a dating website.
“You're on that,” his mother can be heard saying.
When we met up with Lucian to discuss how the decoy’s interaction came about, he explained.
“He came in contact with us. He messaged us first. And that's how it progressed.
Eventually the man kicks Lucian and his team off his property, but there's never any violence.
Helping Out or Interfering?
Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office Bureau Chief Shanna Redwine says it's just matter of time before things turn violent during these type of confrontations.
“That's crossing over into an area that law enforcement is trained for, that's why they have this training. That's why they have the safety mechanisms in place to do these investigations. And at any minute people are volatile.
Although most of the confrontations that Lucian livestream end peacefully, another group we found online called Creep Catcher had a confrontation which ended with a scuffle.
We asked Lucian if he ever thinks about things escalating into violence.
Lucian replies, “That could happen. That could happen. It's a scenario I do think about.”
There’s also the issue of interference.
In some cases, the alleged online predators Lucian’s decoys are corresponding with may already be on Law Enforcement’s radar. Although his operations mirror some of the tactics used by law enforcement when it comes to the way he sets up his stings, any information he gathers is considered third-party, and not admissible. In 60-plus confrontations for Motor City Justice, not one person has been criminally charged. The resistance is in part to do with the investigation not originating with police.
Redwine says, “As far as going forward with the prosecution of these particular cases, our detectives are highly skilled, they’re highly trained, and they comply with guidelines and with investigative tactics that are accepted and that are professional.”
Although uncommon, other jurisdictions have taken action. A group called Predator Poachers cornered a school teacher inside a Houston-area Walmart. They allege he was there to meet a teen boy.
The target they exposed was just arrested in his home state of Washington after follow-up police investigation. Lucian says that’s how things should work.
“They can disagree with my tactics, but at the end of the day we're working for a common goal,” says Lucian.
Though the goal may be the same, law enforcement stresses that civilians leave investigations up to them.
A Safer Alternative
A safer alternative to reporting crimes against children is to make reports to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Center operates an online and telephone tip reporting component.
Tips deemed credible are forwarded to the appropriate agency. Both the Harris County and Montgomery County Internet Crimes Against Children task forces recommend the public use this system to report suspicious activity related to child predators.
To report a tip anytime, go to report.cybertip.org or call 800-843-5678.