A Georgia man is in jail on an enticement charge after a watchdog group posted an online video of him allegedly trying to meet someone he thought was a 14-year-old boy in a Griffin Walmart.
James Crews is charged with attempt to entice a child for indecent purposes in connection with the incident, according to Lamar County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Chad Payne.
The video related to Crews’ charges went viral after it was posted in several neighborhood Facebook groups. In the video, the representative from the watchdog group OPHIS encounters Crews in the hair product aisle of the Walmart store and asks him why he is there.
“I think you know very well that you’re not just here for hair color,” the watchdog representative is heard saying off-screen.
The video, which contains some sensitive material and offensive language, shows a series of messages between a person named “James” and a decoy who claims to be a 14-year-old boy.
“What were you here to do with John tonight?” the watchdog representative said off-screen.
“We were going to go play,” Crews said in the video. “If he wanted to have sex, then we would have had sex.”
Crews was arrested on an “investigative hold” Monday, the sheriff’s office said in a statement on Facebook.
He was formally charged with the felony the next day, Lamar County jail records show. No bond information was listed.
Payne confirmed that an investigation by the sheriff’s office produced “electronic material” that led to the charge.
Crews wasn’t on the sheriff’s radar until the viral video, Payne said.
The Spalding County Sheriff’s Office first became aware of the incident after being tagged in a Facebook post about the video. Spalding authorities then reached out to the Lamar sheriff’s office, which took over as the lead investigating agency since that is where Crews lives.
Representatives from OPHIS did not have contact with either the Spalding or Lamar sheriff’s offices until after the video went viral, all parties confirmed.
On its Facebook page, the group OPHIS — which its founder says stands for Online Pedophile and Hebephile Intervention Squad — claims to be a “volunteer online watchdog group seeking to prevent instances of child sexual trauma.”
The founder, who identifies himself as “John Savior,” said he grew up watching the show “To Catch a Predator,” but later in life realized the matters discussed in the show are “more serious than entertainment value.”
OPHIS was created in September 2018, Savior said, and is made up of “just a handful” of anonymous people privately orchestrating the sting operations. He said he adopted the screen name “John Savior” to protect himself and his family.
“It’s an identity,” he said, “so, anyone who is trying to expose these issues can be ‘John Savior.’ But I would like to keep close friends and family out of it.”
None of the watchdog group’s members have legal or law enforcement experience, Savior said.
“We’re just regular people that came together to bring exposure to people,” he said.
Savior told AJC.com the Lamar sheriff’s office reached out after the video went viral. No law enforcement officers were involved in the sting operation, Savior said.
He said OPHIS tried to work with a law enforcement agency on a previous sting operation.
“I don’t know if they didn’t take us seriously or what,” he said. He declined to name the agency involved.
Payne said other charges are anticipated in the case. He compared the watchdog sting to a person calling into an anonymous tipline.
“It creates an articulable reasonable suspicion,” he said, “so it gives us reason to investigate.”
But, he said, watchdog groups should turn sting operations over to law enforcement agencies prior to the point of confrontation.
“Watchdog groups could be a good thing,” Payne said. “I think that when it gets to the point of meeting with someone — it should be turned over to law enforcement at that point.”
Savior said OPHIS is intent on bringing exposure to people who respond to their “decoys.”
“The more we catch and expose, the more we’re able to prevent instances of child sexual trauma,” he said. “We’re not going to stop.”
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