As a result of a proactive undercover investigation coordinated by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit (CEACC), and the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office, 20 people were arrested over a four-day period beginning Thursday, November 1, 2018. Those arrested were charged with O.C.G.A. 16-12-100.2, Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 2007 and/or O.C.G.A 16-5-46, Trafficking of Persons for Labor or Sexual Servitude. Additional charges may be forthcoming.
“Operation Paladin” was a four-day proactive effort centered in Bartow County, GA. The operation took several months of planning. The arrestees, ranging in age from 20 to 59, traveled from areas around Northwest Georgia with the intent to meet a child for sex. One person that was arrested was a registered sex offender. Multiple people were arrested that were in possession of suspected illegal drugs. One person was arrested in possession of a firearm. Twenty-four (24) mobile phones were seized as evidence during the operation.
The goal of “Operation Paladin” was to arrest persons who communicate with children on-line and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. Additionally, the operation targeted those that are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor. On-line child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and arrange a meeting with the children for the purpose of having sex. The children these predators target are both boys and girls. Since 2014, the Georgia ICAC Task Force has arrested over 100 people in similar operations.
Over the course of the operation, over 30 cases were established that met the threshold for arrest. Twenty of those cases were concluded with arrests. During the multi-day operation, investigators had more than 200 exchanges with subjects on various social media or internet platforms. Many of those were exchanges in which the subject initiated contact with whom they believed to be a minor and directed the conversation towards sex. In some of those cases, the subject introduced obscene or lewd content, often exposing the minor (undercover) to pornography or requesting the child take nude or pornographic images for them. About half of the exchanges involved websites used for dating, socializing, or even websites used for classified advertisements.
Although some websites promote themselves as being for “adults-only” it is not uncommon for law enforcement to work cases in which children access these sites, establish profiles claiming to be older, and then find themselves vulnerable to victimization, harassment, blackmail, or assault. Several subjects were identified as communicating simultaneously with multiple investigators posing as minors. Such activity confirms what investigators uncover conducting these types of investigations: that many predators specifically seek out minors on such websites to groom them as potential victims for sexual contact.
Along with those agencies who participated in the planning and coordinating of the operation, twelve (12) additional law enforcement agencies participated in “Operation Paladin” as members of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. These agencies were:
Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force
Cartersville Police Department
Columbus Police Department
Conyers Police Department
Floyd County Police Department
Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office
GBI-Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center (GISAC)
Gwinnett County Police Department
Hall County Sheriff’s Office
Marietta Police Department
Polk County Police Department
United States Department of Homeland Security
The proactive on-line investigation was a coordinated effort among the participating law enforcement agencies to combat this activity. Bartow County Sheriff Clark Millsap stated, “This operation is a prime example of interagency planning and cooperation. I am proud that we were able to host the Georgia ICAC Task Force at our facility to carry it out. Moreover, I hope that these arrests send a loud and clear message: the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office has a zero-tolerance policy for exploitation of children. We will continue to work with the ICAC Task Force whenever needed to stop these predators. Bartow County is a great community and we will work relentlessly to ensure that it remains a safe place for our children.” GBI Special Agent in Charge, and Commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, Debbie Garner remarked “The Bartow County Sheriff’s Office is one of our most active member agencies. We appreciate their daily efforts to combat child exploitation. This type of cooperation and collaboration is invaluable in the effort to keep our children safe from predators who seek to harm them. This successful operation was a true partnership between all the agencies involved. We will continue to aggressively work together to protect our children.”
The following were arrested and charged in Bartow County as part of “Operation Paladin”:
Randall Ball, W/M, Acworth, GA, 25 years of age, grocery stocker
Bailey Brown, W/M, Jasper, GA, 29 years of age, emergency home repair responder
Richard Brown, W/M, Trion, GA, 53 years of age, mill worker
Steven Byers, W/M, Jasper, GA, 33 years of age, electrician
Bryan Cain, W/M, Calhoun, GA, 36 years of age, unemployed/college student
Jeffrey Coleman, W/M, Cartersville, GA, 52 years of age, glass technician
Michael Crider, W/M, Cartersville, GA, 51 years of age, CAD operator
Daniel Dorough, W/M, Cartersville, GA, 56 years of age, self-employed landscaper
Daniel Ewart, W/M, Cartersville. GA, 38 years of age, tow truck driver
Shawn Jeffrey, B/M, Powder Springs, GA, 26 years of age, pest control technician
Clarence Mann, W/M, Kingston, GA, 59 years of age, truck driver
Vernale Mascall, B/M, Cartersville, GA, 25 years of age, fast food worker
Rick Paul, B/M, Dallas, GA, 25 years of age, Certified Nursing Assistant
Isaac Sanchez, H/M, Summerville, GA, 20 years of age, painter
Charlie Smith III, W/M, Cartersville, GA, 45 years of age, patient care technician
Thomas Smith, B/M, Rome, GA, 43 years of age, delivery driver
Timothy Smith, W/M, Cartersville, GA, 57 years of age, customer service
Conner Thrash, W/M, Woodstock, GA, 28 years of age, truck driver
Michael Turner, W/M, Villa Rica, GA, 37 years of age, unemployed
Michael Wills, W/M, Cartersville, GA, 34 years of age, tree service employee
The Georgia ICAC Task Force is comprised of 230+ local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, other related criminal justice agencies and prosecutor’s offices. The mission of the ICAC Task Force, created by the U. S. Department of Justice and managed and operated by the GBI in Georgia, is to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in developing an effective response to cyber enticement and child pornography cases. This support encompasses forensic and investigative components, training and technical assistance, victim services, prevention and community education. The ICAC Program was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the internet, the proliferation of child pornography, and the heightened online activity by predators searching for unsupervised contact with underage victims. By helping state and local law enforcement agencies develop effective and sustainable responses to online child victimization and child pornography, the ICAC program delivers national resources at the local level. Arrests made by the Georgia ICAC Task Force have been steadily increasing over the last 3 years. In 2014, the GA ICAC Task Force made 196 arrests. The Georgia ICAC Task Force made 244 arrests in 2015, and in 2016, the Georgia ICAC Task Force made 340 arrests. In 2017, The Georgia ICAC Task Force made 350 arrests. The Georgia ICAC Task Force has made over 2,000 arrests since its inception in 2002.