A former Long Beach preschool employee who was arrested last month for allegedly attempting to contact a minor for sex has yet to be charged with a crime as authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding his case.
Robert Alden Stanley, a former office manager at California Heights United Methodist Children’s Center, was arrested on April 16 after he was targeted by an online vigilante group called People v. Preds that works to expose alleged child predators. The San Diego-based group has remained active in Long Beach in recent weeks after it was buoyed by the arrest of Stanley and another Long Beach man named Prince Guy, but law enforcement sources have said authorities are wary of prosecuting cases connected to online vigilante groups due to a myriad of legal concerns.
Guy, 50, who is listed as an extended member on the board for Long Beach Pride, the nonprofit that organizes the city’s annual Pride festival, was arrested on April 3 and charged with one felony count of meeting with a minor for lewd purposes. He remains in custody while his case is pending and is due in court on June 8, according to the Los Angeles County Superior Court records.
Stanley, however, was released on bail and has not yet been charged, according to court records. He could not be reached for comment.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said it is still investigating both cases.
The Long Beach Police Department in a statement declined to comment specifically on the cases but said it is drafting an “informational bulletin” to inform officers of the potential for calls related to groups like People v. Preds.
People v. Preds is one of a growing number of vigilante groups across the country that target alleged pedophiles and post the encounters to YouTube and Instagram, sometimes live streaming the situations. People v. Preds has more than 54,000 followers on YouTube and even sells merchandise.
In a similar fashion to the controversial former NBC series “To Catch a Predator,” a member of the group will typically pose as an underage teenager in dating apps and then lure the alleged pedophile to meet in person, where they will then confront that person.
While they get cheers from thousands of online viewers, their actions have sparked concerns from law enforcement over safety and possibly compromised investigations.
A source with the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the issue said local law enforcement has many concerns about the rise in these child predator vigilante groups.
The cases are often hard to prosecute due to a number of legal issues. Among the concerns, the vigilantes can be non-cooperative when asked to turn over their devices for evidence and reluctant to testify in court, the source said.
Victor Vieth, chief program officer for Zero Abuse Project, a nonprofit that works to prevent child sex abuse, said amateur sting operations can cause more harm that good as the vigilantes don’t have any law enforcement experience.
Unlike law enforcement sting operations, vigilantes typically have no knowledge of the person’s criminal background or whether they are violent. And without a controlled investigation, the perpetrator has more of an opportunity to destroy evidence if not booked into custody immediately, he said.
As the groups are becoming more common, there is also concern that potential pedophiles could become more wary and harder to catch in legitimate law enforcement stings.
“Vigilantism has been around forever and it’s never been particularly effective,” Vieth said. “Folks who do this may be well-meaning, but they are not fully appreciative of the risks.”
The Long Beach Police Department in a statement said it does not condone acts of vigilantism, but will make arrests if “an initial investigation of a criminal matter warrants an arrest.”
“Even with good intentions, vigilante acts often cause more harm than good, leading to unintended consequences such as increased acts of violence, compromising investigations, and misidentifying suspects,” the department said. “We encourage our community to work collaboratively with our highly trained officers to legally and judiciously solve crime, apprehend criminals, and help achieve justice for all victims.”
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