- LCSO ran an internet sex-offender undercover sting operation
- They call it Operation Safe Summer
- The last one had a lot of bad arrests
- Details are scarce so far, but it looks like they arrested more kids than dangerous predators this time around
Ironically, the same day I ran an article decrying sting operations which tend to entrap people who are not looking to commit a crime, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office does a press conference to brag about their undercover sting operation. We can only hope that the investigators working this operation did a better job in their investigation than the last time. Details have not been released yet, other than the names and personal details of the accused, but the last time around, several of the cases had to be dropped, others were acquitted, and one case was thrown out by a judge due to the outrageous behavior on the part of law enforcement in entrapping one of the suspects. Yes, several creepy, bad people may be among those charged, but there are a lot of people who get stung in these operations who are not criminals. Those stories don’t make news, because the people want to put it behind them.
As I stated this morning, one of the tenets of doing undercover sting operations is that the sting should be targeted specifically to known, ongoing criminal activity. These operations, as they are generally run, do the opposite. The undercover agents go fishing, and try to cast as wide a net as possible to ensnare more people and get a better headline after the press conference. Instead of catching actual, dangerous predators, they get a bunch of bored kids who aren’t looking to do anything illegal until the cops entice them to do it.
The last time around, Operation Spider Web, arrested a kid who never agreed to do anything with the cops: he thought he was coming over to hang out with another kid. Other times, the cops didn’t even claim to be a minor until their target was already headed to the house. For almost all of them, the cops initiated contact with the targets, which is absolutely contrary to the way a proper sting should be run. That’s why several people took their cases to trial, and several of them were acquitted, but not before their names had been dragged through the mud. And Spider Web, and probably Operation Safe Summer, follow the set-up textbook operating manual.
If you wanted to draw up a textbook entrapment situation, Operation Spider Web, and many of the similar internet sting operations around the state would follow the blueprint for improper law enforcement conduct. Instead of targeting known suspects, or suspicious chatrooms, or something with ANY indication of ongoing criminal activity, these operations randomly target internet users. Instead of waiting to be contacted, or putting out bait on an online service, agents initiate contact with unsuspecting targets. Instead of letting the suspects lead the discussion, agents frequently bring it around to sexual connotations, at times pushing it, and enticing the targets with sexual gratifications. They deliberately try to walk the line so they don’t get called out on it in court, and it still comes back on them time and again. The First District Appellate court decried their techniques just last fall in the widely noted Gennette case, but here we are again. See Gennette v. State, 124 So.3d 373 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013). Gennette was the authority that caused a local judge to throw out one of the arrests last time around, based on the behavior of law enforcement.
Operation Spider Web was overseen by FDLE Special Agent Charles McMullen. He’s basically a government hired gun, who travels around the state setting up these sting operations. He doesn’t care about targeting actual predators: trying to get as many people as possible arrested. The more arrests me makes, the more his job is justified… and the less resources go toward actual dangerous predators. He signed off on most of the arrests last time, which means he was personally responsible for at a good half-dozen bad arrests last time he came to town. Bad arrests hurt innocent people, and the fact that most of the arrestees this time around are 20-somethings suggest that these cases are more set-up than good arrest. Law Enforcement got their big press conference, and will probably lead the evening news, but they probably didn’t do much to make our community safer. Especially not if these are more McMullen specials…
Those charged with these offenses should contact me or another experienced defense attorney to fight. Not only are they facing prison time, they are facing lifelong sex-offender designations. And the more energy law enforcement has to expend fighting these cases, the more likely they are to finally realize the error of their ways.