CHANDLER, Ariz. — If you remember watching Chris Hanson confront several men on the popular TV show “How to Catch a Predator,” you’ll recognize the tactic.
Two men from Chandler, Arizona said they were inspired by shows like Hanson’s and several groups online, and have adopted the experiment.
They use several websites and dating apps to bait willing men into meeting them for sex. The two 20-year olds pose as minors and agree to meet men for sex. Then, they record the encounters, and post each video to social media, unmasking the men behind their usernames.
Two videos posted to Twitter since June have received several hundred thousand views and thousands of shares.
“We want to show people that there are people out there like that, and that they’re sick,” said Kerrick Bryant. He and his roommate, Kyle Layton, have been tag-teaming the effort.
The two said they created a profile under a fake name, and used photos of younger looking friends to give the illusion that they’re 15 year old boys. Most recently, they met two unsuspecting men on Grindr, an app designed for men looking for same-sex partners. The two said they don’t initiate contact. Instead, they wait for others to reach out to them with sexual requests.
“It’s scary how in detail these people can go, into what they want to do,” said Layton.
Bryant said he and Layton keep photos of the conversations. Those screen-grabs are also posted to social media.
“Wear something like basketball shorts to make it easier to touch each other,” one man said.
“It’s like, a different way to give back,” said Layton. “I know that people are like, ‘Oh, well, why don’t you just give back by doing community service or something like that?’ But somebody’s got to do it.”
Bryant and Layton admitted while exposing the accused predators’ identities is part of the goal, the other is to gather evidence of a crime, and land them in jail.
“We just have to have all the evidence first, so that we can make sure we show them everything, without a reasonable doubt, that these people are doing, what they’re doing,” Bryant said.
Detectives at the Chandler Police Department opened an investigation in June, according to Sergeant Daniel Mejia, but the agency doesn’t encourage the experiment, he said.
“We appreciate people coming forward,” said Mejia. “But in these situations, it is important for them to just call us so that we can initiate that investigation, and for them not to put themselves in harm’s way.”
Even with photos of incriminating conversations, and videos showing the men running away when confronted, Sgt. Mejia said it’s one man’s word against another, and police still have to investigate further to see whether there’s enough to prove a crime took place.
“It takes such protocols and investigation to complete a good report that’s going to be chargeable with any prosecuting agency,” he added. “So it’s very difficult for us to backtrack.”
“You don’t have the cataloging of the evidence, and the chain of custody that would take place if it was law-enforcement,” added Anthony Ramirez, attorney. “In theory, a defense attorney could exploit that and say, ‘Who was this?'”
Ramirez agreed launching an investigation is a good idea, at the very least, allowing law enforcement to look deeper into a potential issue, but ultimately, the decision is up to that agency to decide whether the evidence merits an arrest.
“These guys, you know, they’re having fun, or they may think that they’re doing something good, but aside from putting themselves in danger, you know, they could be wasting law-enforcement’s time, which is taking away from solving crimes,” added Ramirez.
After more than a month, Chandler police said no charges were filed against either of the two men depicted in the videos.
“There was no evidence that we can use based on the person’s investigative process and techniques. That is why we prefer to have people call us so that we can initiate the investigation ourselves with trained detectives and proper guidelines,” Sgt. Daniel Mejia wrote in an email to KNXV Thursday, Aug. 1.
Bryant and Layton said they’re aware police don’t condone the behavior, but still believe the cause and the online exposure makes an impact.
“If it’s not illegal, I’m gonna keep doing it,” Bryant said.