This internet sting is the second one conducted by the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office in less than a year, this week netting 30 arrests, including a couple from the Fort Myers area. Like the local Operation Spiderweb sting conducted in Lee County last year, suspects range in age from 21 to 64. I discussed Operation Spiderweb here on Crimcourts a few months back.
Something that stood out in the NBC-2 story on this operation, is that the Sarasota Sheriff, Tom Knight, specifically addresses the issue of entrapment. He states that he believes these individuals have done it before. I don’t know what evidence he has of that, but it goes directly to predisposition, which could negate entrapment. He goes on to say, “We didn’t ask anyone to meet us, they contacted us.” That goes to who initiated the contact, which is also an important consideration where entrapment may be an issue.
I point out the Sheriff’s comments specifically to contrast them to Operation Spiderweb by LCSO. Several of the defense attorneys in town have gotten together to compare fact patterns, and we have seen several cases where the investigators initiated contact. Some of these contacts occurred in adult forums that specifically prohibit juveniles from viewing. That’s a major issue for demonstrating predisposition. Unlike the example given in Sarasota, where the detectives placed a post specifically claiming to be 14 years old, Detectives responded to adult posts. It appears that the Lee County detectives failed to observe the basic safeguards against entrapment. That’s bad police work, and runs the risk of creating crime where crime would not have existed. That’s a violation of our Due Process protections. It’s also worth noting that at least one of the suspects arrested in the previous Sarasota sting was found not guilty at trial.