FREMONT — A vigilante group aiming to expose sexual predators in the Fremont area is doing more harm than good, several Sandusky County legal and law enforcement agencies said in a recent news release.
Members of the Dads Against Predators group pose as juveniles online in an attempt to lure out predators, set up meetings and then confront the men who show up. DAP then posts videos of those confrontations online, with many going viral and attracting thousands of views.
But the group’s actions render “law enforcement unable to criminally charge these individuals and prosecutors unable to prosecute” and has “resulted in the loss of life,” according to the release, signed Monday by Sandusky County Sheriff Christopher Hilton and Prosecutor Beth Tischler, among other area agency heads.
Sheriff Hilton did not return The Blade’s messages for clarification but told The Blade’s media partner WTVG-TV, Channel 13, that “loss of life” referred to two individuals who died by suicide after DAP posted videos of them on YouTube, and a third suspected suicide, where a man died a day after his DAP video was posted online.
Either stop or potentially face prosecution, the release warned the group.
“Local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors of Sandusky County and the City of Fremont cannot and will not sit back anymore and watch as DAP continues to parade its form of vigilante justice,” the release says. “Its intentions may be well intended, but their methods and outcomes are improper and unacceptable. The ‘exposed’ individuals may be exactly what DAP says they are, but they also may not be.
“The judicial system shall decide whether these individuals are in fact guilty or not guilty, and everyone has the right to a due process,” it said.
When the group was first asked to stop its stings back in January, DAP founder Joshua Mundy said they had no intention of doing so.
“I don’t understand how exposing them is doing an injustice if they were walking around in the shadows anyways,” Mr. Mundy said at the time. “How would they prosecute them anyway? How would they even know the names to prosecute? It may be harder to prosecute them, but if I didn’t do anything they’d have nothing to prosecute.”
Since then, at least 51 videos of accused predators have been posted to the group’s YouTube Channel. But after news of the suicides, he is considering at least pausing the stings. Mr. Mundy told The Blade he would discuss the request with his attorney and decide later how to proceed.
“I didn’t really think about people taking their own lives,” Mr. Mundy said Monday. “But at the end of the day, what they do with their lives isn’t my responsibility.”
Prosecutor Tischler could not be immediately reached for comment or clarification on the release or the potential consequences the group may face if it continues.
The announcement was met with much criticism online, with several people commenting on the sheriff’s office’s Facebook page that they support DAP and the work the group has done more than the office. A DAP Facebook page, which shows more than 16,000 members, also was flooded with support.
“What a joke…the only reason you even started doing anything about child crimes is because DAP made it public and exposed how bad the situation was,” one commenter wrote. “I support DAP and so does the majority of our community!”
In the news release, Sheriff Hilton said law enforcement is already aware of the “serious issues” surrounding child exploitation in the community and across the state. He highlighted several of the actions area agencies have taken this year to combat those issues:
— In January agencies conducted an undercover sting that resulted in 15 arrests, though the release does not specify if all of the arrests were related to sexual importuning.
— In February, agencies conducted a sex offender registration sweep, resulting in eight arrests.
— In July, a three-day Internet Crimes Against Children operation netted 10 felony arrests “that were all prosecutable cases.”
— In September, Fremont police Chief Dean Bliss and other Sandusky County law enforcement created a child exploitation task force.
— In October, Chief Bliss organized a training seminar to help area law enforcement combat child exploitation.
“By conducting these ‘operations’ in the manner they do, it renders law enforcement unable to criminally charge these individuals and prosecutors unable to prosecute,” the news release said. “Therefore, these potential predators are able to walk away with no repercussions for what they had the intent to do/ DAP has, in essence, educated these people on ways to not get caught in the future, thus creating the potential for future victims of sexual assault.”
State statute gives law enforcement teeth to take action against those who prey on underage youth, or those who attempt to prey on law enforcement posing as underage youth. But it doesn’t account for civilians doing the same, then-acting Sandusky County Prosecutor Zach Selvey said in January. He feared the videos and messages obtained by the Dads group may not hold up in court.