Youth pastor, 6 others arrested on child porn charges in Floyd County

Austin Wray (left), a youth pastor in Rome, was among seven people arrested in a multi-agency child porn sting. Five of the others include (from top): Jackie Autry, Jason Gass, Joab Stewart, Richard Castleman and Tyler Johnson.

Credit: Floyd County Sheriff's Office

Combined ShapeCaption
Austin Wray (left), a youth pastor in Rome, was among seven people arrested in a multi-agency child porn sting. Five of the others include (from top): Jackie Autry, Jason Gass, Joab Stewart, Richard Castleman and Tyler Johnson.

Credit: Floyd County Sheriff's Office

Young victim rescued from pastor’s home, police say

Among seven people arrested in a multi-agency child pornography sting this week was a youth minister who Floyd County police say was actively victimizing a child in his care and creating explicit videos.

Austin Wray Perkins, 25, was being held without bond at the Floyd County Jail on charges of felony aggravated child molestation as well as sexual exploitation of children.

As part of that arrest Wednesday, police rescued a minor they say was being victimized by Perkins.

“The child had no family or support and had been taken in by (Perkins) for care,” Floyd County police Sgt. Chris Fincher said. “The juvenile who was rescued by police was living with (Perkins), who was coaching the child about how to act in videos and also engaging in acts of child molestation.”

The next step in the investigation, Fincher said, is to reach out to the church to find out if there are more victims. Several callers and a TV news report identified the church Perkins worked at as Grace Fellowship Baptist. Police declined to identify the church where Perkins was youth minister.

Among the files confiscated, Fincher said there were graphic images and videos involving children between 2 and 12 years old. Some of the content seized by police was created locally and others were distributed worldwide through social media as well as online chat groups and messenger applications. Each time those files are shared, those children are revictimized, police said.

“These were innocent children in a bad place,” Fincher said. “We’re going to try and get them help in the best way we can.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Floyd County police Chief Mark Wallace thanked those involved with a multi-agency partnership that led to seven arrests this week.

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

Floyd County police Chief Mark Wallace thanked those involved with a multi-agency partnership that led to seven arrests this week.

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

Combined ShapeCaption
Floyd County police Chief Mark Wallace thanked those involved with a multi-agency partnership that led to seven arrests this week.

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

2 days, 21 locations investigated, 7 arrests

Along with Perkins, six other people were arrested around Floyd County in the two-day sting conducted by the Floyd County Police Department in partnership with the U.S. Secret Service and GBI in an operation dubbed “Spring Cleaning.”

Tyler Antonio Johnson, 22, is accused of sending four sexually explicit images of several minors to other people over a social media app in November 2021. He’s charged with felony computer pornography and was released on bond.

Jackie Steve Autry, 65, is charged with felony sexual exploitation of children and possession of controlled substances after Floyd police found sexually explicit images and videos of a minor, as well as a glass pipe with suspected meth, in his possession. Autry was held on a $15,000 bond.

Richard Alan Castleman, 26, of Cave Spring, was arrested at his home and charged with felony computer pornography after police officers said they found a sexually explicit video of a minor on his phone. He was released on $15,000 bond.

Jason Michael Gass, 27, was arrested at his home after Floyd County sheriff’s deputies said they found more than an ounce of marijuana, THC oil, smoking devices and sexually explicit photographs of minors. Gass is accused of using a social media app to receive and exchange several files of child sexual abuse.

Gass is charged with felony computer pornography, felony marijuana possession, THC oil possession and misdemeanor drug related object possession. He was released on $15,000 bond.

Joab Hayden Stewart, 24, is charged with sexual exploitation of children after police said they found sexually explicit materials featuring minors. He was released on $15,000 bond.

The seventh person arrested in the investigation was a 16-year-old. Their personal information and charges have not been released.

Investigators said additional arrests are expected as the investigation continues.

Combined ShapeCaption
Floyd County police Sgt. Chris Fincher speaks to reporters outside the Rome-Floyd County Law Enforcement building Thursday morning.

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

Floyd County police Sgt. Chris Fincher speaks to reporters outside the Rome-Floyd County Law Enforcement building Thursday morning.

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

Combined ShapeCaption
Floyd County police Sgt. Chris Fincher speaks to reporters outside the Rome-Floyd County Law Enforcement building Thursday morning.

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

The investigation

The two-day investigation also included the U.S. Secret Service Cyber Crime Task Force, which included two investigators from the Cobb County Police Department.

Seven members of that task force were able to perform on-the-spot examinations of computers, phones and gaming devices to retrieve evidence in a matter of hours. They would normally have taken days or weeks.

“The Secret Service examined 13 items of digital evidence while on location with investigators totaling five terabytes of data,” Fincher said. Overall, 26 items in total were collected and are being reviewed with another five terabytes of data.”

“There’s a lot more data than there was five or 10 years ago,” U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Steven R. Baisel said. “If you printed out on paper one terabyte it would fill the back of a semi-truck.”

Baisel said potentially millions of files were confiscated, and the task force is going to keep looking for others creating, downloading and distributing child pornography.

He then directed a statement at those who are continuing to produce and download child porn.

“You’re going to get caught,” Baisel said. “We’re actively pursuing this.”

— Rome News-Tribune staff writers Olivia Morley and Imani Beverly-Knox contributed to this article.


ajc.com

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

Credit: Rome News-Tribune

MEET OUR PARTNERS

This story is published via a content-sharing agreement between the AJC and the Rome News-Tribune. Visit them online at northwestgeorgianews.com.

If you have any feedback or questions about our partnerships, you can contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams via email at nicole.williams@ajc.com.