Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Group works to stop sexual predators, but some say it goes too far

March 3, 2022
Police cars outsides Michigan State Police Department on Oct. 12, 2021.
Police cars outsides Michigan State Police Department on Oct. 12, 2021. —
Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Editor’s note: This article contains information regarding sexual abuse that may be triggering for some readers.

On a February night, Lansing resident Joseph Garza and his cameraman approached the doors of a Lansing-area apartment complex, camera rolling.

When a resident passed, Garza revealed his motive for being there.

“This guy came out here to meet with a 13-year-old girl for sex,” Garza said in the video, referencing another man who lives in the complex. “I just thought you should know if you live here.”

Garza was at the apartment complex of who he identifies as a Michigan State University doctoral student.

Garza created a fake online profile purporting to be a 13-year-old girl. He said the man he met online intended to have a threesome with the 13-year-old girl.

It’s not the first time Garza has done this. He says he tells people who respond to the profile that he’s 10-14 years old. If they keep messaging, it usually turns sexual, he said.

“I investigate anyone that reaches out to me and continues talking after I tell them I am underage,” Garza said in an Instagram direct message to The State News.

Garza believes he is offering a public service. Police and other law enforcement authorities say they do not encourage this service and in fact, may be harming criminal cases.

East Lansing Police Department Captain Chad Connelly said the department does not encourage vigilantism because it has led to unsafe situations for both parties.

“We always would ask if people are aware of illegal activity, or any type of behavior they feel could be criminal in nature, that they've reported it to their local police departments and local authorities,” Connelly said. “We don’t encourage that type of behavior at all. We do encourage people to report criminal or nefarious activity to law enforcement in their local jurisdictions.”

The Confrontation

In the recent incident, the person that Garza said is the perpetrator denied the accusations in the video. Then Garza threatens him, saying he would call the police if he did not sit down and talk with him.

From there on out, Garza’s cameraman captures everything about the encounter: from Garza making the perpetrator call his parents to tell them he was going to have sex with an underage girl to neighbors asking why he wouldn’t just call the police.

The video was posted on Garza’s YouTube channel by the name of EndPred, whose mission statement is plainly summed up in the channel bio: “Exposing predators. That’s it.”

The video has since been removed by YouTube for violating the site’s Terms of Service, relating to community guidelines involving hate speech, harassment and privacy. Garza sent the uncensored video to The State News.

Once the perpetrator got on his knees to pray, Garza’s cameraman used racial insults. Further, Garza and the cameraman questioned the future status of the perpetrator‘s visa.

EndPred also accepts paid subscriptions. It posts “uncensored catches” to Patreon, where individuals can subscribe to their content for $5 a month. This includes access to videos and chat logs, uncensored videos, weekly updates and post-catch podcast access, according to the Patreon’s description.

Since the YouTube channel’s creation Jan. 16, EndPred has accrued a following of more than 4.7 thousand subscribers and 127,000 views across five posted videos.

While the alleged sexual abuse incident was reported to authorities after the recorded confrontation, the question still remains: Why does he do it?

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“We confront them first so we have them on video hopefully admitting to being there to commit the felony,” Garza said in response via direct message. “Also a crime has been committed when he shows up after the sexually charged chat with the underage person.”

At this point, no one has been convicted as a result of what Garza is doing.

Vigilantism in Michigan

There is no specific legal code in Michigan regarding vigilantism, but there are ways vigilante actions can turn criminal.

“If someone wants to confront someone, and physical alteration occurs, then there are documented cases of assault or destruction of property or invasions of privacy into people's homes that they gained access to without their full consent,” Connelly said.

In 2019, Attorney General Dana Nessel told the public to leave this work to professionals and law enforcement.

She also said authorities would not be able to prosecute cases based on information provided by luring suspected online predators to a public place, recording the sometimes-violent interactions, then posting the videos on social media.

“Their actions may result in important evidence being suppressed, impeding our ability to properly and effectively do our job,” Nessel said.

The case captured by EndPred is an active investigation and has been assigned to detectives at ELPD. Authorities have not yet made contact with a representative from EndPred.

“I expect this investigation to take a decent amount of time because there’s numerous people involved in it,” Connelly said. “It'll be going down for review from the prosecutor's office for potential charges.”

Garza said EndPred sends information to overworked police departments.

“Cops around here don’t have the time or resources to do things like this themselves,” he said in a direct message. “Every city should have at least one or two guys doing this, exposing people in the city, so these guys can’t hurt children anymore.”

MSU spokesperson Dan Olsen said the information ELPD received was shared with the university and has been passed along to investigatory units on campus for follow-up.

It is unknown whether the man on the video is or ever has been a student at MSU.

MSU Police and Public Safety inspector Chris Rozman said the department’s Community Support Bureau has also been made aware of the incident.

“The Community Support Bureau will follow the procedures for any RVSM incident involving a member of the MSU community and notify our university partners, such as OIE, as appropriate,” Rozman said in a statement.

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