Twenty-one people were arrested in a multi-jurisdictional operation focused on capturing sexual predators in the Columbus area who target children online, authorities said.
The suspects, whose ages range from 22 to 55, allegedly traveled to various areas with the intention of meeting children for sex. Their charges include sexual exploitation of children and trafficking person for labor or sexual servitude.
“The Columbus Police Department works daily to protect the safety of citizens of our community, especially those that are unable to protect themselves,” Chief Ricky Boren said. “We will continue to be proactive in identifying, apprehending and prosecuting individuals who exploit children.”
Launched on Nov. 9, “Operation Hidden Guardian” involved investigators posing as children online. They had more than 600 exchanges with people on various online platforms, including social media and chat rooms. Within more than 400 of those exchanges, the suspect intiated contact with the “child” and directed the conversation toward sex.
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Some of the suspects allegedly introduced obscene content, exposed themselves and requested child pornography.
“Online predators visit chatrooms and websites on the Internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and arrange a meeting with children for the purpose of having sex,” Debbie Garner, a special agent in charge at the GBI, said in a news release. “The children these predators target are both boys and girls.”
The agencies that were involved in the investigation were the Columbus Police Department, Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office for the the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit and the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
The Georgia ICAC Task Force is comprised of more than 200 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The group has made 2,200 arrests since it launched in 2002, with 240 of those arrests being made in 2016.
“I want to recognize the cooperation of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners that work daily to seek out and apprehend predators that attempt to do harm to our children,” Boren said.
- Austin Pierce, 26, of Columbus
- Reginald Crowell, 36, of Pittsview, Ala.
- Jonathan Jenkins, 23, of Columbus
- Ke Song, 24, of Auburn
- Kenneth Jordan, 29, of Columbus
- Edwin Nieves, 55, of Columbus
- Ji Won Kim, 26, of Atlanta
- Christopher McGowan, 32, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.
- Collis Eaton, 48, of Midway, Ala.
- Derrick Smalls, 38, of Phenix City
- Michael Everett, 22, of Columbus
- Jimmy Cobb, 35, of Columbus
- Derrick Weldon, 30, of Columbus
- Harold Bates, 35, of Selma, Ala.
- Jarrold Long, 27, of Columbus
- William Pruitt, 48, Franklin, NC
- Eric Menefee, 50, of Opelika
- Gary Whitefield, 28, of Columbus
- Brian Corcoran, 42, of Columbus
- Robert Moore, 31, of Ladonia, Ala.
- Uthemes Taylor, 30, of Columbus