A self-styled sexual predator “hunter” is drawing criticism and praise but an icy reception from law enforcement for his work luring to Edgerton people he says are primed to commit sex crimes against minors.
About a month ago, Edgerton resident Jay Pretty launched a volunteer organization he calls ”Worldwide Predator Hunters”—a group that uses popular teen social media apps to set up meetings in Edgerton with adults seeking sexual encounters with juveniles.
An Edgerton police lieutenant said his department and the Rock County District Attorney’s Office are leery of getting involved with Pretty’s group.
The Wisconsin Attorney General issued a statement discouraging groups from such behavior.
Pretty said he and others in his group create “decoy” profiles of minors to attract adults seeking illicit contact with minors.
Pretty and his partners have live streamed videos of encounters with the people his stings have lured into Edgerton.
So far, Worldwide Predator Hunters has lured three people Pretty said came from outside Edgerton to meet with his group’s decoys. Pretty said the meetings have been at public places such as retail store parking lots and public parks in Edgerton.
Pretty’s group last week called Edgerton police to report an encounter with a man they lured from Milwaukee. Pretty said he turned over video and social media records to police that he said prove the Milwaukee man set up an encounter with his group’s decoy.
Pretty said the man thought he was meeting a 15-year-old girl to spend the night with her while her parents weren’t around.
Pretty said he has handed local cops social media records, some laced with incriminating, explicit sexual images and innuendo—evidence he says present police and prosecutors evidence of sex crimes “on a silver platter.” But Pretty said police and Rock County prosecutors haven’t seemed receptive to arresting people his group has exposed.
“The DA hasn’t called back. The secretary at the courthouse is saying that law enforcement should be taking a report and sending it in. I’m getting mixed communications,” Pretty said.
“Then people go on Facebook and social media pages making it sound like we’re the predators. They’re saying, ‘If you see the Predator Hunters, call the police.’ And we’re here trying to save kids.”
The Rock County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a Gazette inquiry on Wednesday.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel released a statement Wednesday discouraging Pretty and other private groups from carrying out sex crime stings.
“As a career prosecutor who spent a bulk of my career going after child sex predators, I understand better than anyone the drive to protect the innocent from online predators and pedophiles. But these citizen groups need to know—your unauthorized actions are more likely to help a bad guy go free than put him behind bars. Just confronting the suspect on your own can be highly dangerous, and you run the major risk of ruining evidence for a criminal prosecution.
“In the strongest of terms, DOJ discourages these organizations from continuing to operate in this manner.”
Edgerton Police Lt. Randy Meehan told The Gazette his department hasn’t warmed up to Pretty’s work. Meehan said his department is looking at records from one of Pretty’s stings, but he said the department and the Rock County District Attorney’s Office are leery of getting involved.
Meehan said it presents a gray area in the “integrity” of normal criminal investigative processes because the stings are drawing people into Edgerton and the work is being done outside the loop of police investigations.
Meehan said Pretty’s work doesn’t necessarily translate to viable evidence of sex offenses.
“There’s a disconnect between what they’re trying to accomplish and what law enforcement needs to do to bring forward a prosecutable type of event,” Meehan said.
Pretty’s methods likely aren’t illegal, Meehan said. He’s not aware of any other similar, “hunting” group in the U.S.
Meehan said he has met with Pretty, whose “hunting” team has a two-man crew of a cameraman and a security guard in case encounters go awry.
Meehan said he is concerned about Pretty’s group luring in possible criminals from outside the area who could pose risks not just to Pretty’s group but to others.
“I’d prefer they not bring sexual predators into the city of Edgerton. If they’re going to continue to do it and wanted our assistance, they should get together with the (Rock County) district attorney’s office and figure out what the DA would need for successful prosecution for people they lure in,” Meehan said.
The Edgerton Police Department posted a Facebook message, saying the department opposes sex crimes but it does not endorse Pretty’s work or his methods.
Local residents offered Facebook comments on both sides of the issue. One woman said Pretty’s work is commendable but his group should stop coordinating stings in Edgerton.
“I believe this group has good intentions, (but) I do not support the manner in which they are bringing sexual predators into Edgerton,” The woman wrote. “I do actually applaud them for trying to make a difference, however I believe if they are going to do this they should be meeting up with these people where they (the predators) are located.”
Another woman believes Pretty’s group should be lauded.
“If they’re doing it legally, what’s the issue?,” she wrote on Facebook. “This isn’t just an issue here. It’s everywhere. Children are being lured on the internet and sold into sex trafficking all the time. Unfortunately with how far it’s gotten with no end in sight it’s nice to see someone trying to do something about it.”
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office in the early 1990s ran a sting that used magazine classified ads to lure in people who collect child pornography. According to Gazette reports, the county disbanded the sting because of the cost to taxpayers to investigate and jail people lured from outside the county.
Pretty said his group is trying to catch predators who could prey on minors, if not in Edgerton, then someplace else.
He believes efforts like his group’s could help police and prosecutors band together across county and state lines.
Pretty said he others in Worldwide Predator Hunters accept no money. They operate out of their own pockets.
Pretty says he’s not trying to be a cop, a vigilante or a “hero,” and during encounters, he’s “calm” and humane toward the people he lures to Edgerton.
He said he tells the people they aren’t under arrest, and that they can leave at any time.
For the rest of her life, the sexual assault victim would reject health-care providers or bank tellers who were Hispanic.
The woman was 78 when Kelly L. Baxter broke into her house and sexually assaulted her in 2000.
Baxter, who lived near the woman’s west-side house, had disguised himself, including faking what has been described as a “Hispanic” or “Spanish” accent.
Baxter, who is white and not Hispanic, was sentenced Wednesday in Rock County Court.
The woman had fought the stranger in her house, Assistant District Attorney Rich Sullivan said at the sentencing.
For ever after the assault in 2000, she would not open the windows, as she used to do, out of fear, Sullivan said.
The woman died 11 years after the assault, never knowing whether the man who assaulted her would come back. She checked the locks on her doors every evening.
“For the remaining 11 years of her life, she was in a prison cell,” Sullivan said. “Her great, wide world, the house that she loved, the place where she raised her children, she helped build with her husband, the community that she loved that was known as Little Cop Town because there was so many police officers there and she felt so safe walking outside, suddenly became her prison.
“She couldn’t go out of her own home. She needed her daughter to move home. ... And the Department (of Corrections) is recommending less time than she had to serve for the rest of her life. I just don’t think it’s just. I think when we look at this crime, it screams out for a maximum sentence,” Sullivan told the judge Wednesday.
Then last year, authorities matched Baxter’s DNA to blood stains on the woman’s sheets, blood he shed because she fought him.
The Department of Corrections recommended 10 years in prison and four to five years of extended supervision for Baxter, now 54. Sullivan called the recommendation “insanely low.”
The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison and 10 years of supervision. Maximum sentences are rare.
Sullivan said details of the case show the assault was planned.
“I don’t know of any case being a ‘maximum’ case if this is not a maximum case,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan noted Baxter was convicted of fourth-degree sexual assault in 2016. The case originally was charged as repeated sexual assault of a child, but prosecutors agreed to a plea deal to spare the traumatized girl the pain of confronting Baxter in court, and Judge James Daley at the time said the agreement was in the victim’s best interest, Sullivan said.
Baxter’s DNA sample from the fourth-degree sexual assault conviction led to Baxter being flagged in the 2000 cold case.
Sullivan noted that sex assailants are considered at higher risk to reoffend when there were multiple victims and if a victim is outside the family—the case here.
“Society needs to be protected from Mr. Baxter,” Sullivan said.
Defense attorney Philip Brehm said Baxter’s refusal to admit the crime makes sense because he intends to appeal the conviction.
Brehm said Sullivan’s argument was an emotional one, but a maximum sentence is not appropriate because Baxter had no previous criminal history at the time of the offense, there was no serious physical injury and the violence was not excessive. Brehm recommended 10 years in prison.
Baxter defended himself by saying he had helped elderly people his entire life. He named names of people he had helped and remembered an elderly woman who gave him a quarter when he went to Sunday school in appreciation for him helping her husband.
“Mr. Baxter, your crime is one that shocks the conscience of the community,” Judge Karl Hanson said.
Hanson imposed the maximum sentence, saying that if Baxter’s crime was any more serious, it would have been charged as a first-degree sexual assault, not second-degree.
The victim’s daughter, who appeared emotional throughout the hearing, stifled a sob and put her hand over her mouth as Hanson passed sentence.
Afterward, she said justice had been done.
Peace, they say, is a state of mind.
Janesville’s Fourth Ward Neighborhood had its peace shattered by two homicides in 2017. So on Wednesday, residents held a ceremony to reclaim their peace.
They did it by invoking the idea of a spiritual quilt that blankets them all in safety.
About 50 people gathered in Fourth Ward Park for the event.
“The police do a good job and do all they can to provide protection, but as we saw last year with several violent incidents, this neighborhood could use more than just their good efforts,” said Kay Deupree of the Fourth Ward Neighborhood Action, which organized the event.
“So this evening we want to invite a spiritual power that is already here to spread a blanket, a covering, over the neighborhood,” Deupree continued.
The group walked to each the park’s four corners to hear from different spiritual leaders in each spot:
Jitmoud recited a prayer in Arabic. Erschen said the idea was to call on the Creator “for the protection of this neighborhood and for the protection of this city.”
City Manager Mark Freitag and city council member Tom Wolfe attended the event.
Bell called on participants to be spiritual warriors.
“We are not fighting against flesh and blood. It’s not against the people we see here today, but it’s against the evil and wicked things we can’t see, even though some of those wicked things control some of the people,” Bell said.
Bell continued: “In order for us to be covered under the blanket, we have to come together, stand together.”
Bell noted another recent violent death in another part of the city. Robert Thomas Jr., 26, died Aug. 21 after being stabbed by a woman he knows.
The case stirred controversy, and Bell called on people to unite in the quest for justice in the case.
Quezada spoke in Spanish through an interpreter, talking about a time of confusion, hunger and disease before Jesus comes.
People should pray that God will cover us with his holy spirit so we can understand each other and live together happily, Quezada said.
Sadagopan asked the children in the group to form a circle and the adults to encircle the children.
Adults, she said, are responsible for protecting and creating a great community for all the children.
Police Chief Dave Moore told the group that the Fourth Ward has had its share of tragedy, but he said the most recent robbery, shots-fired incident, attempted homicide and several other tragic crimes did not happen in the Fourth Ward.
Moore called the Fourth Ward the most connected community in the city, which officers who patrol the city know: “You all know each other more than anybody else does.”
Moore called on residents to change their neighborhood’s narrative by focusing on the positive.
“We have good things here, folks. Let’s keep it going,” Moore said.
After the talks, participants were invited to sing an old song, “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.”
Neighborhood resident Neil Deupree led the singing and changed the last verse to “We’ve got safety like a blanket where we live.”
He added at the end: “And we are that blanket, and we connect with the spiritual blanket above us and around us and through us, amen.”
Albert Wesley Astin
James “Jim” Baertschi
Casandra E. “Cassie” Bentley
John L. Carlson
John Michael Damore
Mary Jane Kubly
Eldon L. Martin
Stephen E. “Steve” McCarthy