JACKSONVILLE SHERIFF’S OFFICE ANNOUNCES THE ARRESTS OF 21 MEN SOLICITING MINORS
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Sheriff Mike Williams held a press conference on May 16, 2017 to announce the arrest of 21 males during an undercover sex sting. Operation “Watchdog” ran from May 5 through May 8. The males arrested ranged in age from 21 to 61. The operation was run by a Joint Task Force including the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Orange Park Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office. These types of operations are commonly referred to as “To Catch a Predator,” based on the once popular television show.
The sting was run like many others. Detectives pose on certain social media websites as under age males or females. While on the websites conversations take place between the undercover detectives and the potential predator. What will be clear in the conversation is the young age of the individual the undercovers are pretending to be. In the most recent sting, the undercovers posed as 13 or 14 year old females or males. In each of the 21 arrested individuals, some promise of sexual intercourse or sexual activity with a minor were promised before the suspects traveled to the target location. Once the individuals arrived at the target location, they were taken into custody. Although not detailed in the news reports, it is common for the undercovers to request that the suspects bring special items to the meeting place. Specific alcohol, candy, food, or even sex props or toys are often thrown out as requests by the undercovers. This is a great piece of evidence for the State of Florida. When a suspect is specifically asked to bring a six pack of watermelon wine coolers to drink before sexual activity, and the suspect shows up with that specific request, it is hard for the suspect to explain.
A broad range of individuals were arrested as a result of the most recent operation. Kyle Parmenter is a 24 year old teacher’s assistant from Palencia Elementary School. His arrest on these charges certainly disturbed several parents of Palencia Elementary School as several were interviewed by local news outlets. Many parents questioned the hiring process that allowed an individual like Parmenter to work with children on a daily basis. According to a Florida Times Union report, Matthew McCance of Jacksonville sent two nude photographs of a couple having sex to whom he believed was a 13 year old child. Jerry Ruis is a 52 year old male who traveled all the way from Snellville, Georgia. The troubling fact regarding Ruis, is that he is currently on Sex Offender Probation for molesting a child in the past. Abdulrahem Alkaedei is a 25 year old male who is a student at the University of North Florida, who’s listed address is on campus living. These operations clearly show that predators do not all fit the same mold or walks of the life.
The report also gives details regarding the difficult take down of Cody Thatcher, a 21 year old from the Arlington area. Thatcher attempted to flea arrest and used his own motor vehicle to ram three separate detectives cars. Thatcher was charged with three additional counts of Aggravated Battery against a Law Enforcement Officer, Fleeing or Attempting to Elude Law Enforcement, and Resisting an Officer with Violence. Charges such as these usually indicate a danger to the community in the minds of the judges setting bonds, and the bonds tend to run high even though these suspects as a group, usually have minimal criminal histories. On the back end of these cases, if convicted, one faces prison time followed by a lifetime of registration as a sex offender. Also, after incarceration, most courts will impose a period of sex offender probation, which in Florida, is the most restrictive probation there is. Most state attorney offices assign only career or senior prosecutors to seek justice in sex cases, usually on behalf of a victim. These sometimes called “traveller” cases never involve a victim, no child or adolescent exists and therefore, there’s no touching.
The Very Serious Charges that the 21 Face
All 21 of the individuals face similar charges. The common charges are traveling to meet after using a computer to lure a child, solicitation of a child via computer to engage in sexual contact, and unlawful use of a two way communication device. The majority of these charges are found under Florida State Statute 847 titled Obscenity.
To prove the crime of traveling to meet after using a computer to lure a child, the State of Florida will be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person who knowingly used a computer online service, internet service, local bulletin board service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to commit any illegal act described in Chapter 794, 800, 827 (lewd behavior, sexual battery, etc.), or to otherwise engage in any unlawful sexual conduct with a child or with another person believed by the person to be a child. Anyone who violates this chapter will face a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, however if any of the individuals falsely represented their own age as a minor, the charge is enhanced to a second degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.
An important fact that must be proven in each of these cases is the age the undercovers pose as. It must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt the age of the individual the suspect is speaking with. The detectives will record the entire conversation whether it is typed, texted, emailed, or spoken. A key piece of evidence will be the dialogue discussing the age of the child. It has been this writer’s experience in the past that this “age” will be made abundantly clear. Since the suspect has no idea they are actually speaking with an undercover, they often times speak openly and in detail about the individuals age.
To prove the crime of Traveling to Meet a Minor, the State of Florida must show that a person traveled any distance either within this state, to this state, or from this state by any means, who attempts to do so, or who causes another to do so or to attempt to do so for the purpose of engaging in any illegal act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in other unlawful sexual conduct with a child or with another person believed by the person to be a child after using a computer online service, Internet service, local bulletin board service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to engage in any illegal act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in other unlawful sexual conduct with a child. Traveling to Meet a Minor is very similar to the Utilizing a Computer Device to Solicit a Minor, it simply adds in the fact that an individual traveled somewhere to do so. It is fairly simple for the State to prove the element of travel. For starters clearly the suspect is not in the room with undercovers. Secondly, the take down team can easily testify to how the suspect arrived at the target location. One big difference though is regardless of the age the suspect states, this charge is a second degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in the Florida State Prison.
The unlawful use of a two way communication device is commonly used when charging narcotics or drug dealers. However when one reads Florida State Statute 934.215 the charge clearly fits right into these sting operations. The Statute reads, any person who uses a two-way communication device, including, but not limited to, a portable two-way wireless communications device, to facilitate or further the commission of any felony offense commits a felony of the third degree, punishable by up to five years in the Florida State Prison. Here the State of the Florida will first prove in court that the suspect committed a felony under Florida law. Once that has been established the State of Florida will easily show that the suspect used their cell phone to commit the felony.
What do you do if you or a Loved One are Facing Similar Charges
Almost all Northeast Florida criminal defense attorneys offer free consultations or jail visits. If you or a loved one are facing Charges of Using a Computer to Entice a Child, Traveling to Meet a Minor, or any other sexually motivated charge such as Sexual Battery, Lewd or Lascivious Behavior/Act or are facing Violations after the fact such as Failure to Register, Failure to Comply with Sex Offender Registration Requirements or Violations of Probation, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Forbess Law Firm, 904-634-0900, offers free, no obligation appointments and jail visits. Further if you or a loved one have a pending warrant in Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns, Baker, or Putnam County an experienced lawyer can help negotiate your surrender to law enforcement and protect your constitutional rights at the time of arrest and subsequent interview attempts by law enforcement officials.
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