HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Through "Operation Small Talk," the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office identified 16 men who solicited sex with undercover detectives they believed were minors online and on various social media platforms.
With the help of other local law enforcement agencies, they were all arrested in recent weeks.
"The repulsive behavior and messages from these 16 suspects arrested were across the board," said Sheriff Chad Chronister. "In some cases, when they showed up to meet these fake teens, they even brought products with them in anticipation of sex. As a parent myself, this type of activity crushes me to my core. No child should suffer at the hands of an adult trying to turn their corrupt fantasies into a reality."
The arrests included 45-year-old Michael Daughtry, who was a registered sex offender and a former sergeant with another Tampa Bay area law enforcement agency.
They also include Melvin Rosa Viera,31, a member of the Army Reserve. Another one of the people arrested, 48-year-old Matthew Jones, was also charged with more than 50 counts of possession of child pornography.
"Parents we need your help to be vigilant. You need to know who your kids are talking to online and consider using child blocks or passwords on certain websites your children are using. You need to have real, open conversations with your children about the dangers online and what is and is not appropriate for strangers to say to you," Sheriff Chronister said.
"I am extremely grateful for Sheriff Chronister and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office detectives who successfully identified and arrested these predators seeking to sexually exploit and abuse children," said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. "Because of the great work of our Statewide Prosecutors and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, these reprehensible and dangerous men are off the street and far away from vulnerable minors."
Attorney General Moody also said the movement to defund police would have stopped the proactive actions that led to this successful investigation and that proactive actions require funding.
We spoke to Kimball Lewis, CEO of EmpoweringParents.com, who recommends parents have a clear conversation with their kids about talking to strangers.
"Do not assume that your kids know better. Some kids' emotional intelligence levels are not as high as you think. They may not realize adults out there want to harm them. So you need to be specific with your kids that there are predators out there," Lewis said.
He also says you must explain to your child what is considered appropriate and what is not appropriate in conversation.
"If they're asking you to send them pictures, that is never appropriate for a stranger to ask that; but some kids may not realize that," Lewis said.
He also warns that some kids defer to authority. While they may be a great son or daughter and follow all the rules, if an adult who is trying to harm them asks them something, they may simply follow it because they assume they are the authority. Explaining to your kids that difference is important, too.
"I have two teen boys, and they have to be Facebook friends with me; and they can't block me. I need to know what they're posting online because if they post anything that bothers me, I talk to them about it," Lewis said.
Other key things parents should do:
- Follow their kids' social media accounts
- Know what they're posting
- Ask who they're talking to and what about
- Understand all the new and emerging social media platforms that kids are using
"You need to stay up on the trends," Lewis said, "you can't be a dinosaur and ignore what your kid is getting involved in and who they are talking to."
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