Eleven men arrested, including elementary school assistant principal, in online predator sting in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS, NV – Eleven men, including an elementary school assistant principal and men from out of state, were arrested following a two-day joint operation led by Las Vegas police and the FBI in an online sex predator sting on December 8th and 9th

The sting was part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICACTF) “Operation Protect Our Children.”

“Operation Protect Our Children” targets online predators who attempted to meet and have sex with a child.

In cooperation with LVMPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICACTF), the agencies took the suspects into custody after they attempted to meet and engage in sex acts with a person posing as a 13-year-old girl online, police said in a release.

The following suspects were arrested as part of the investigation: Christopher Damron (46), Anthony Huth (42), Alejandro Aranda (35), Nicholas Lara (27), Miguel Amezquita (55), Jonathan Tavares (45), Samuel Privado-Martinez (40), Armand Grays (45), Kun Yoo (36) and Shawn Matthews (39).

According to an arrest report for 46-year-old Christopher Damron, it was determined that he traveled all the way from Oxnard, California to engage in sex with a minor and enticement of prostitution, following an unrelated online prostitution advertisement posted by an officer with the Child Exploitation Task Force.

29-year-old Tyler Yost, an assistant principal at a Clark County elementary school, was also arrested.   It was confirmed with the school that Yost was hired in 2015.

Herbert A. Derfelt Elementary School Principal Gina Howard sent the following letter to parents regarding Yost’s arrest:

“The safety of our students is the number one priority at Derfelt Elementary School. As always, we want to keep you informed of important issues happening within our school community.

“We would like to inform you that an employee assigned to our school has been arrested today for luring a child for sex. The employee is currently assigned to home, as of today, per the negotiated agreement with their bargaining unit.

“The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is the lead investigative agency and has reported the employee’s name as Tyler Yost. We wish to assure you that we are cooperating fully with law enforcement in their investigation.

“Please know that this is a police investigation and, as school officials, we do not have additional information to share. However, if you have questions about your child, please contact the school at (702) 799-4370.”

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reported that the men face charges including: luring a child to engage in sexual conducting, solicitation for child prostitution, attempted sexual assault against a child under 14 and luring a child with computer technology to engage in sexual conduct.

They released a formal statement on the investigation:

“The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) would like to remind parents to discuss with their children the dangers of online chats with strangers.

“Parents are encouraged to routinely monitor their children’s activity on social media and other online applications to prevent them from becoming victims of a child sex predator.  

“This operation was conducted as part of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s ongoing effort to reduce violent crime and protect children in our community.”

Just last month, after a spike in “vigilante behavior incidents,” the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said they are investigating several incidences where people are posing as minors to lure would-be child predators and catch them in the act, the department said in a release.

Alleged offenders are meeting at designated locations and are confronted about their online exchanges with minors. Video recordings are then posted, garnering thousands of online views. Some of the interactions have turned violent, police said.

Police are asking the public to report any suspicious behavior and to “not take matters in their own hands.”

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Prosecutor warns parents: internet crimes against children are skyrocketing during the pandemic

December 10, 2020

SEATTLE, WA – King County prosecutors say they have already filed more charges involving internet crimes against minors than in all of 2019. 

One prosecutor reported that they often receive more than 150 reports per day of potential internet crimes against children.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, in a conjunctive effort with the Seattle Police Department, serves as a clearinghouse for internet crimes in the state of Washington. 

The office has seen a huge surge in the number of cases involving crimes against children online.  This coincides with large increases in domestic violence, shootings, and animal abuse in 2020.

During a news briefing this week, prosecutors said at least 63 cases involving internet crimes against minors were on record by Friday, December 4, surpassing the total filed in 2019 by about 30 percent.

The daily numbers seen in these cases can sometimes be up to three times higher than the typical high watermark numbers seen in 2019.

Laura Harmon, a deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, explained allegations include those for possessing, sharing, or viewing explicit images of minors, as well as communicating with underage people for sexual purposes:

“I know that all of the investigative agencies that I work with have seen a huge spike in cases during COVID.  A lot of experts in the field have talked about how this type of spike appears to be because there are just more people at home, more people on the internet, both children and offenders.

“This has created kind of a perfect storm for offenders to seek out children, [and] offenders to seek out other offenders to try to trade and increase their personal amount of depictions that they have. These types of cases know no bounds.  It doesn’t see race or economic status or neighborhoods, it really crosses all lines.

“These are offenders that have never offended before, these are offenders who are on sex offender registries, it runs the complete gamut.”

According to data from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, nearly 80 percent of victims are girls.

Reports involving “direct communication,” or chatting directly with victims, increase with age and appear to be most common in older teens. But some children can be far younger.  Harmon explained:

“It runs anywhere from 5, sometimes 6, because kids are so tech-savvy these days, they know how to jump on an iPad and start chatting on a particular platform with their friends. 

That’s kind of the earliest, and obviously up until they’re 17, which is the more common age that you see in terms of chatting with them, enticing them to take pictures, or meet with them in person.”

Laura Harmon has an exceptional amount of experience in prosecuting these cases. 

She said many of the cases she has reviewed involve teens who exchange messages with someone posing as their age, with the offender beginning as complimentary and escalating the situation to obtain sexual photos. Sometimes, that can lead to the suspect threatening to release the photos publicly, unless more are sent.

Harmon said:

“This is just becoming more and more common in the cases that I’ve seen these days.  I know that law enforcement is seeing it all over the state.”

Harmon advises that the best way parents can keep children safe from predators is two-fold, speaking frankly with them about the dangers and keeping tabs on their online footprint:

“Step one is having an open and honest conversation.  Step number two is also just monitoring them, whether that be through the current settings on their devices, or just looking through their devices to know what platforms they’re on, what they’re doing, what they’re talking about — that kind of combination of those two things is the best way.”

Harmon added that as a general rule, children should avoid interacting with people they do not know in real life online.  In instances where some social interaction is part of an activity, like online gaming, do so with caution:

“Just make sure that you keep it safe for yourself.  Don’t send pictures…do not send private information about yourself at all.”

More advice from Harmon entailed turning off location options on electronic devices and within applications:

“I know Snapchat has a feature that will geolocate you on a map.  Unless you turn that feature off, anyone you chat with, even if it’s a stranger you didn’t necessarily intend to give your location, they now have access.”

Harmon said while the surge in activity has been especially pronounced during the pandemic, investigators expect the battle will continue well into the future:

“I do expect this to continue until lockdowns subside and life goes back to normal, so to speak.  Even then, though, I think we’ll still see a rise, it will just be less steep than what we’re experiencing right now and have been experiencing since March.”

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