Cyber-sting nabs 6 potential predators
An intensive cyber-sting conducted last week by the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and other local law enforcement agencies with the support of Portland's KPTV Fox12 netted six alleged sexual predators, who arrived at a nondescript home hoping to have sex with a 13-year-old girl.
One Lake Oswego man - Karry Lee Barker - was arrested in the operation.
Stepping inside, they were confronted by a burly arrest team and a television news crew eager to inquire about the reason for their visit. Most brought alcohol - all brought condoms.
The operation was pulled together by Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts, who views the spread of online sexual predators as a burgeoning crisis that has not been sufficiently addressed by law enforcement.
'The more you look into this thing, the more you see it's a huge problem that public safety isn't prepared for,' said Roberts. 'I think, regionally, we're not prepared for what's ahead.'
The sting in Clackamas followed a similar operation conducted in Portland last November by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, which resulted in three arrests.
'It took much longer to put together than I thought it would - a good year or so,' said Deputy Paul Farnstrom with MCSO. 'It shaped up great here in Clackamas, though. They learned from our experience, and they are correcting all the mistakes we made ahead of time. We provided them with extensive information from our debriefing.'
For the three days that the sting was active, the rented house in Wilsonville that served as its base of operation was inhabited by 38 law enforcement officials.
In an upstairs bedroom, detectives trained to 'chat' online in the manner of young girls tapped away on their laptop computers. Downstairs, the arrest team waited in a room near the front door wearing bulletproof vests, while the surveillance team kept watch from outside.
Farnstrom, himself a 'chatter,' described the process: 'Basically, we just surf the Web and once these guys contact us, we assess whether they are benign, or if they are serious about doing what they are talking about.
'I liken it to fishing: You put the bait in the water and you can go for an hour and not get any bites, and other times you catch the limit in 15 minutes. The big ones you keep, and the little ones you throw back.'
When one of the big fish bites, he is given the telephone number of a 20-year-old civilian decoy, waiting upstairs in the chat room. She read over the transcript of the detective's interaction with the suspect and continued the conversation over the phone.
The boisterous detectives, laughing and joking after hours spent online, fell silent when the phone rang, and room suddenly felt like the bridge of a submarine with an enemy destroyer circling overhead.
During the conversation, the decoy must navigate an intricate minefield of legal and psychological constraints, so that the suspect does not become suspicious or charge entrapment following his arrest.
While continuing their chats online, the detectives listened in on the decoy's side of the conversation. After a few minutes on the phone, the talk turned serious.
'How much experience do you have?' she asked. 'I'm just curious.'
'What's the youngest you've ever been with?'
'I just don't want to not compare well with these other girls - I'm not too experienced at 13.'
'How old do I sound?'
The illusion of a young girl home alone is almost shattered when a detective's cell phone rang. He frantically grabbed it from his hip, silencing it. The decoy glared at him.
'I know you're afraid I'm a cop, which I'm not, but I'm way more nervous than you are right now.'
'I want to know what you have in mind.'
And quickly the conversations descends into subjects too dark to repeat in this space.
After she hung up, the decoy told the detectives that the suspect was on his way. His description was passed along to the surveillance team. Kevin Lee Miller of Calisburg, N.C., was about to become the first alleged predator snared by the sting.
With Miller en route, a second decoy prepared for her role in the operation. Patrol Deputy Karen Moss, 32, is a petite brunette, dressed in jeans and a denim jacket, with her hair back in a pony tail.
'I'm supposed to stand here and look young,' she said. 'I'm here if the suspect needs to see a body, basically. As people get scared - they're not sure that this is real - they need to see somebody.'
When Miller arrived an hour later, he knocked on the front door of the house. The officers inside had again fallen silent, alerted to his approach by the surveillance team. Moss stepped forward and opened the door.
Miller walked inside, and the arrest team surged towards him. Seconds later, he was handcuffed and sitting on a stairway, the glaring light of a television camera shining in his face.
Next to be arrested was Kerry Lee Barker, an Oregon State University student from Lake Oswego. He turned and fled after stepping inside the house through the rear sliding glass door. Deputies used a taser to stun him and wrestled him to the ground, then restrained him and hauled him back inside for a television interview.
Both Barker and Miller faced bail amounts of $50,000 based on charges of second-degree attempted rape and first-degree attempted sexual abuse.
Four more alleged predators - Michael James Delgado, Gresham, Allan Dennis Grab-inski, Beaverton, James Schipper, Medford and Arden Perkins, Haines - visited before the operation ended Feb. 3. Each of them was arrested and charged with second-degree attempted rape, first-degree attempted sexual abuse and second-degree attempted sodomy. They were lodged at the Clackamas County Jail in lieu of $750,000 bail apiece.
The charges against all six men stemmed from what they allegedly wrote to the decoy during their Internet chats.
'They came fully prepared, with alcohol and condoms,' said Detective Jim Strovink, public information officer with CCSO.
The sting was a cooperative effort between law enforcement and the news media. KPTV Fox12 rented the house that was used for the operation, and installed an elaborate video surveillance system.
'This really strapped the station for supplies,' said Josh Miller with Fox12. 'It took two people two full days to get it set up.'
The station aired a report using the footage obtained through the sting during its 10 p.m. newscast Monday.
'I was a little concerned with their participation at first, but then I met with their news director,' said Roberts. 'I became more comfortable after talking with him and with the folks from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Multnomah County, who had been through this before.
'It looked like a good relationship that really could protect the citizens.'
'I think it's good to have the media involved, educationwise,' he said.
With six suspects under arrest and new public attention focused on the issue of online predators, Strovink pronounced the operation a success.
'We're enormously pleased,' he said. 'It's a phenomenal starting point. I think this demonstrates good mutual cooperation from everyone, law enforcement and the news media.'