Child sex predator sting: Bay Area fire captain among 24 arrested, Sacramento sheriff says

Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper on Monday announced the arrests of 24 men, including a San Jose Fire Department captain, who are suspected of sexually soliciting undercover investigators posing as children online.

The three-day sting called “Operation Spring Cleaning” was conducted in the final three days of March by the Internet Crimes Against Children team of investigators, which works out of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.

Cooper said the undercover investigators were posing as children 13 years old and younger on various social media platforms; the suspects often directed who they believed were children to commit sexual acts or asked for pornographic material.

Some of the arrested suspects, Cooper said, made arrangements to meet with these supposed children to have sexual contact with them. The Sheriff’s Office shared on Facebook a video showing investigators arresting some of the suspects, including one man who allegedly arrived with lingerie, sex toys and a 6-foot ligature presumably to be used to tied or bind someone or something.

The sheriff said those arrested included men in positions of public trust, and that the suspects are not limited to any age, group or socioeconomic background.

Emphasizing that this was only a three-day operation, Cooper urged parents to take charge of their children, determine what they’re doing on social media and protect them from online predators.

“People meet up with kids, they contact them on social media platforms, ask for pictures, and they meet up with them and engage in sexual activities with these children,” Cooper said during a news conference. “It goes on on a daily basis. So, we just touched a bit of it.”

Bay Area fire captain arrested

Among the men arrested in the undercover operation was Spencer Parker, 43, of Carmichael, who was employed as a San Jose Fire Department captain at the time of his arrest.

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint against Parker on April 3, the same day he was arraigned in Sacramento Superior Court. Parker is scheduled to return to court Wednesday for further proceedings in his case, court records show.

Phillip Cozens, Parker’s attorney, declined to comment about his client’s arrest, saying they’re “awaiting further developments” in Parker’s pending criminal case. The attorney also declined to confirm his client’s resignation from the Fire Department following his arrest.

The San Jose Fire Department has confirmed that Parker’s employment with the department began in 2008, he worked his final shift March 31 and he resigned from his job on April 12, a day after he was placed on administrative leave, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The San Jose Police Department has said it is conducting its own independent investigation into the former fire captain, who was arrested in Folsom, NBC Bay Area reported.

Yolo County murder-suicide

Another man who was arrested in the sting operation was David Castillo, 44, of Woodland. He was released on his own recognizance pending prosecution in court.

Sheriff’s officials said Castillo was killed earlier this month in an apparent murder-suicide in Yolo County in which his mother shot her son and then turned the gun on herself.

The Woodland Police Department has said the April 14 shooting at a home in the 100 block of Nevada Avenue was believed to be a murder-suicide. The man and the woman found in the home’s backyard that evening were both pronounced dead at the scene.

The Yolo County Coroner’s Office has confirmed Castillo and his 74-year-old mother Linda Castillo both died from gunshot wounds at the Nevada Avenue home, but the deaths have not been formally ruled a murder-suicide, the Davis Enterprise reported.

Among the others arrested were four Modesto men, ages 34, 38, 53 and 63. Three Sacramento men, ages 18, 34 and 62, were arrested in the sting operation.

At Monday’s news conference, the Sheriff’s Office displayed a scrolling spreadsheet that included transcriptions of the messages the arrested suspects sent to who they believed were children. The sheriff said these disturbing details shouldn’t be ignored but instead show how dangerous it is for children online.

“It’s very graphic in how they talk to these children,” Cooper said. “I don’t care how smart or how sophisticated you think your son or daughter is. An adult can manipulate a child, bottom line, period. It happens day in and day out.”

Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Steindorf, assistant commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children team, said nearly 100 investigators from 21 law enforcement agencies in the Sacramento region participated in the operation. He said the goal was to identify and arrest suspects attempting to contact children for online.

“These suspects participate in the continual physical and mental health of abuse of children,” Steindorf told news reporters.

The Internet Crimes team — based at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office — serves 30 counties in Northern California from Stanislaus County to the Oregon border. It has trained and equipped investigators at about 100 law enforcement agencies throughout the region, giving them the capability of investigating online child predator cases in their area. Federal investigators, such as the FBI and U.S. Homeland Security, assist the California team when the investigation leads to other states.

After the three-day operation, authorities conducted additional follow-up investigations. Steindorf said the investigators served numerous residential search warrants, taking additional suspects into custody.

Criminal charges

The criminal charges the suspects face include contacting a minor with an intent for sex, sending harmful material to a child, arranging to meet with a minor for sex and meeting a child for sexual purposes, attempting to commit lewd acts with a child under the age of 14, attempting to commit lewd acts with a minor using force or fear and attempting to produce child pornography, Steindorf said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet, who works in the Sacramento DA’s sex crimes and family violence bureau, said this operation was focused on those sharing images online and trying to meet and sexually abuse children.

The prosecutor said educating parents and children about online danger is crucial. The Sacramento DA’s iSmart program visits schools to present visual storyboards depicting several scenarios to students, including online strangers and stalkers, sextortion, sexting, cyberbullying and gang activity.

“You can’t sit back and assume your children are safe online,” Bladet said during Monday’s news conference. “We can see right now they’re not safe online.”