RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — “Why do you think that it’s OK to come and meet a 15 year old girl?” That’s what Richard Sexton of Henrico asked a man he recently cornered in the toy aisle of a local store.
The man thought he was meeting up with an underage girl after messaging an online profile that Sexton, a 32 year old sheet metal fabricator, created.
While local police departments already conduct undercover operations to find potential predators who solicit minors, Sexton has taken matters into his own hands, telling 8News he thinks typical investigative work is not enough.
“If I’m able to get 13 of these guys to arrange a meeting with a minor, you know, why isn’t more being done?” he said.
In order to apply pressure to these men to confess their intentions, Sexton records the encounters on his cell phone; often live streaming the meetings on a Facebook page known as ‘Richmond Against Predators;’ the bulletin board for his operation which was founded in September.
“I personally know people that have been victimized by sexual abusers…” Sexton said. “It just inspired me to want to make a change.”
Sexton said some female friends help create the phony profiles–submitting their own photographs, which are later edited on a phone app to make them appear younger. He also maintains he is not engaging in sexually explicit conversations but is a sounding board to some men on the other phone. His wife Ashleigh Sexton even acts as a ‘decoy’ voice on audio phone calls with the accused.
After one recent ‘gotcha’ encounter that began in the grocery section of a store, Sexton confronted a man in the parking lot, saying, “you told her [the fake female profile] that you were going to cuddle her, but also that you were going to [expletive] her like crazy. You said that, right?”
In the video, the man nods, and quietly says “yes.” Others Sexton has cornered have acknowledged they knew they were meeting an underage girl.
“So you’ve done this before,” he asked one man. “I have,” the man responds.
“Then I’ve got to call the police on you,” Sexton said.
“I don’t care if you’re here to play Monopoly with a 15 year old, if it’s my daughter you’re getting popped with a couple shells, brother,” Sexton bluntly responded after a man admitted he thought he was meeting a minor.
While this kind of vigilante-like work is legal, Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin weighed in on the circumstances surrounding the “gotcha” moments.
McEachin told 8News the ‘Richmond Against Predators’ operation would not qualify as “criminal entrapment,” as outlined by Virginia law, but “could be very dangerous for all involved.”
When asked if he feels unsafe going into these situations, Sexton replied, “no.”
“I think about 13 year old girl that they could be meeting and picking up and causing major harm to, and it just immediately kicks in my defensive nature to do what needs to be done to stop that kind of stuff in our neighborhood,” he added.
Sexton’s response varies after presenting the allegations to these men; sometimes aggressively requesting the men call an immediate relative in order to seek counseling or mental health services. Those that walk away or drive off? He said he calls the police.
A Henrico police spokesperson told 8News “we would never encourage people to take enforcement into their own hands…” “We accept and investigate information through tips from our community whether it is by phone Crime Stoppers or P3tips.com”