TOLEDO, Ohio — After the Sandusky County Sheriff's Office and the Fremont Police Department urged once again the vigilante group Dads Against Predators to stop its activities Monday, the question of why authorities haven't been able to prosecute potential child abusers came to light.
Earlier this year, Dad Against Predators had videos go viral, in which they would lure alleged child predators to meet up and expose them live on video.
But after many of those meetings with alledged predators took place, law enforcement was unable to charge them with any crime.
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Fremont City Law Director Jim Melle explained why.
WTOL 11: What is the tone in the law enforcement community now that authorities have come out Monday and asked the Dads Against Predators group to stop?
Melle: Everybody wants to get the predators off the street. We all have the same goal. It's how we accomplish that. And what is not happening in a way that needs to happen is under 2907.07, which is the importuning statute that applies to these types of charges that could result. It is two conditions that could be met for that to be satisfied.
Number one, it would have to be somebody under the age of 13. And the ones that DAP has been dealing with are not under the age of 13. The other section and this is the only other section that applies is that it must involve law enforcement. We all want to get the predators off the street. We welcome tips that could be given to the police department so that the police department, whichever jurisdiction that would be, would be involved to make sure that then the appropriate manner could be handled to get a potential conviction for something of that nature. So we're all on the same page in that way, but we're not able to accomplish that when the Dads Against Predators go on their own and do that. And in January, when we had the first press conference, it was attempted to be explained that we could not have that happen because it wasn't going to result in prosecutions.
A couple cases did come forth as a result, and no charges were brought as was stated in the January press conference that that's what would occur. In addition to that, we had through Fremont with the Sandusky County sheriff and a group called ICAC, which is through the Ohio Attorney General's office. I believe BCI, I think is what it is. They came and set up an operation, which resulted in 12 people being charged because they were law enforcement then posing as the underage person. And that was the way to handle it. So what we're saying is we appreciate what DAP is doing in the sense that they want to get the predators off the street, but they cannot go about it this way. And if they continue to go about it this way, what could potentially happen is a charge (...) under 2917.21, which is telecommunications harassment. And what that means is that when they go to the Walmart or they go to the different locations that they're doing this, and when they did not involve law enforcement, if they continue to do that, as we've asked them not to do the potential exists to charge them. What tells me in case it's harassment, because they're using their phone to set up the video to do all that. And they're doing something that is against the law. And because of that, it could face up to 180 days in jail, which is a misdemeanor of the first degree for the first offense. And the second one could result in a felony. Now, neither myself nor the county prosecutor want to go that route if we don't have to, but those potentials exist.
And what the purpose of the press releases is to explain that we appreciate the idea that everybody wants to get the predators off the street but we have to work in that manner to accomplish that.
WTOL 11: Without getting into specifics in the cases, can you explain why those charges are dropped? So if the, you know, if they can't be filed with the age or not having law enforcement, what's the process of them being filed and then dropped?
Melle: There are two manners. First of all, they could ultimately just be dismissed when they come in because they weren't charged appropriately because they don't fit the definitions within the law, or if it is presented to the grand jury because it could potentially be a felony, the grand jury can do what they call no bill, which means they would determine that there was not enough evidence to proceed, to take it further, to ultimately bring what they call an indictment. And so, because of that, the charges would be then ultimately dismissed.
WTOL 11: When it comes to age, when you say under 13, does that mean the victim would have to be under 13? And these folks are either not posing as a victim under 13 or they are not actually under 13?
Melle: No person shall solicit a person who is less than 13 years of age to engage in sexual activity with the offender, whether or not the offender knows of the age of such person - that's section A - and that's what we're referring to.
WTOL 11: So, they saying that they are 13 doesn't fit the bill of charges?
Melle: I think, from talking to the chief, there's not been anybody that has been under the age of 13 that has been involved.
WTOL 11: And I mean, obviously you wouldn't encourage them to involve anybody under the age of 13.
Melle: No, that's not what we're doing. That's not what we're saying. We all ultimately need to worry because potentially those can be deemed as entrapment if they go about it without using law enforcement.
WTOL 11: The other side of this that we hear from law enforcement is that there's the potential danger when they confront these folks in a public place like that.
Melle: There always exists a danger when you're potentially stating to somebody, this is what you did and we don't know what could happen. And so that's why we're saying that's another reason not to do it. And that's why the telecommunications harassment could be a potential consequence.
WTOL 11: Do you know if the law enforcement folks and folks in the legal side of things, are you guys talking to the Dads Against Predators group? Are you guys having those conversations with them?
Melle: I personally reached out to them, Josh Mundy, a while ago and explained that I didn't (...) I asked them not to continue to do it. But I can't speak for the other, but I know that when we had the press conference, we were specifically trying to address the Dads Against Predators.
WTOL 11: I really think that you've answered kind of all the legal questions. And to clarify it, no one in the community is saying we don't want child sex predators off the streets. So you're saying is, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but you what you're saying is, let's do it the right way so that we can either get them the help they need or get them off the streets?
Melle: We don't want to try to charge somebody and then find out it got dismissed when ultimately we are trying to get the predators off the street in any way we can. So we all want to try to work together by them bringing us tips. So that they can be handled in the proper manner.