JACKSON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, along with other law enforcement agencies from around the Panhandle of Florida conducted a multi-phased operation focused on addressing sexual offender and predator violations.
The operation began on May 10, 2021.
The first phase was an undercover operation focused on law enforcement officers posing as children online.
The “undercover children” made their age abundantly clear and waited to be solicited by a suspect.
Once the suspect asked to meet in person, a location was agreed upon. When the suspect arrived, they were taken into custody by members of the U.S. Marshal Task Force.
Three such individuals were taken into custody. The investigation is ongoing regarding additional information obtained from this operation with further charges likely pending.
JCSO says the second phase dealt with compliance issues related to registered sexual offenders and predators living in Jackson County.
Deputies went to offenders’ homes and verified all of the information included in their most recent registration. If the offender was out of compliance, they were taken into custody.
Thirty-two registered offenders were arrested for non-compliance without incident.
When a sex offender or predator is placed on the sex offender registry, and each time they are required to re-register at the Sheriff’s Office, they must acknowledge that the information that they provide is complete and accurate. Aside from their personal information, (name, D.O.B., height, weight, etc.) they are required to register all “internet identifiers,” which include social media accounts, email addresses, and any means that they might communicate electronically.
Offenders are also required to register all phone numbers and vehicles that they have access to, including co-habitants vehicles, as well as their current employment status.
JCSO said one of the reasons this operation focused on the failure to register social media accounts so heavily is because sexual offenders and predators are not simply lurking in the bushes. They are prowling for their victims online.
Most sexual offenders and predators are not forbidden from having social media accounts, but they are required to register them, according to the report.
According to JSCO, the conversations start out harmless for the most part, but the offender or predator has already engaged in the “grooming” process and slowly become more open about their intentions.
JCSO says at-risk children who come from broken homes, who have experimented with drugs, and those who have been bullied are the most targeted.
The third phase of the operation addressed outstanding warrants regarding sex crimes, crimes against children, and failure to register charges related to sex offenders. Three such warrants were served.
JCSO said some of the individuals arrested during the operation are not sexual offenders. During the course of conducting compliance checks or searching for fugitives, law enforcement encountered additional individuals with warrants or in possession of narcotics. Nine arrests were made.
Jackson County Sheriff Donnie Edenfield extended his "heartfelt appreciation to those who participated in this operation. Without their assistance, it would not have been possible."
Participating agencies and divisions include: The Walton County Sheriff’s Office, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, The Florida Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force of the U.S. Marshal Service, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, The Bay County Sheriff’s Office, The Florida Highway Patrol, The Lynn Haven Police Department, The Holmes County Sheriff’s Office, The Washington County Sheriff’s Office, The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, The Panama City Police Department, The Sneads Police Department, The Panama City Beach Police Department, the State Attorney’s Office and the dedicated men and women of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in the Special Victim’s Unit, Sex Offender Compliance Division, Criminal Investigations Division, Drug Task Force, The JCSO Reserve Unit, Patrol Division, K-9 Division, and JCSO Operations.
The operation resulted in:
- 45 Arrests
- 114 Felony Charges
- 6 Misdemeanor Charges
- 27.21 Grams of Methamphetamines Seized
- 3.91 Grams of Cocaine Seized
- Approximately 12 Grams of Marijuana Seized with Paraphernalia
- $9,400 in Stolen Currency Recovered
- 11 Stolen Guns Recovered
Jackson County currently has 181 registered sexual offenders; 156 of those are classified as sexual offenders, 20 are classified as sexual predators, and five are classified as juvenile sexual offenders.
For more information about the arrests, click here.