Jessica Cejnar / Wednesday, Sept. 30 @ 1:03 p.m.
39-year-old Man Charged With Arranging to Meet A 14-year-old For Sex; Arrest First in New DNSO Operation Targeting Child Predators Using Decoys
A 39-year-old man is expected to enter a plea Thursday in connection with allegations that he attempted to meet a 14-year-old girl at a Del Norte County beach for sex.
The teenager turned out to be an undercover decoy and Jason Allyn Walton’s arrest Saturday was the first in a new Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office operation targeting child predators.
Walton faces charges of sending harmful matter with the intent to seduce a minor; arranging to meet with a minor for sexual purposes; and contacting a minor with intent to commit a sex crime. He was arraigned at the Del Norte County Courthouse on Tuesday, District Attorney Katherine Micks told the Wild Rivers Outpost.
Walton will return before a judge Thursday for a bail review hearing and entry of plea, Micks said. His bail is currently set at $100,000, according to the DNSO’s website.
Del Norte County Sheriff Erik Apperson announced Walton’s arrest via Facebook on Tuesday, though he didn’t mention the suspect’s name. Deputy Sarah Asbury spearheaded the new project,
Apperson told the Outpost. His goal with his Facebook post was to make parents aware of the tactics potential predators would use to target minors.
“These predators, they’re not dumb,” Apperson told the Outpost. “These are married people with families and jobs. They’re not the sort of picture we try to paint ourselves of what a criminal looks like. This guy that we arrested had no criminal background.”
Asbury, who is part of the DNSO’s investigations unit, began working on this project for a few weeks, Apperson said. The sheriff’s office connected with an adult volunteer decoy who has experience in undercover operations targeting child predators, he said, and took on the persona of a 14-year-old girl.
In his Facebook post, Apperson also declined to mention the arrest's exact location, just stating it was a popular local beach.
“The problem with going into too much detail on that is that the predators get this information too,” he told the Outpost. “And if they hear that specific spot was utilized, then my concern is that this might hurt any operation that looks like this in the future. I want to catch more (predators) before they hurt kids.”
Apperson also spoke to the ability to investigate and build a case against a suspect despite there being no actual underage victim. He compared it to thwarting a bank robbery.
The DNSO’s investigation includes records of communications Walton made with the alleged victim — Apperson said the application used in this instance was MeetMe. Walton also allegedly brought several items that confirmed he was the person the decoy spoke with, Apperson said, and showed up at the agreed-upon meeting place.
“He was certainly there to carry out the other crime,” Apperson said. “But by being there, he committed a series of crimes. Really the best analogy that I could make, is we stopped it before the robbery happened, but planning that robbery within itself is still a crime.”
Micks said one of Walton’s charges — California Penal Code 288.4, “arranging a meeting with a minor for a sexual purpose" — includes language stating the suspect has committed a crime if they believe they’re meeting a minor even if the person they were communicating with is an adult.
“As long as we can prove that the suspect believes that person to be a minor, then they can still be prosecuted,” she said.
Though the app used in this particular case was MeetMe, Apperson said parents should be wary of all platforms, including mainstream ones like Facebook.
Noting that he’s the father of four children ranging from 8 to 18 years old, Apperson said there’s no expectation of privacy in his home. His 16-year-old knows to give up his phone when his parents ask, while his 8 and 10-year-olds do their homework on the computer in the kitchen or living room where their mother or father can keep an eye on them.
“I think as adults we need to keep our eyes open and we need to protect our kids,” Apperson said. “At home, that starts with constantly being tuned in and making sure kids can communicate with us. It’s one thing to tell your kids, ‘Talk to me if you have a problem,’ but if you don’t respond to that very well, they’re not going to do it.”
Walton’s bail review hearing and entry of plea is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. Thursday at the Del Norte County Courthouse.