HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY – Deputies from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office have arrested 16 men as the result of an online chat operation aimed at catching sexual predators who target minors.
Those arrested include a registered sex offender, Michael Daughtry, and Matthew Jones, who was charged with 51 counts of Possession of Child Pornography. The list also includes a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Melvin Rosa Viera, and former Manatee County Sheriff’s Office sergeant, Stephen Utter. (Charges and photos below.)
“The conversations, text messages and photos from these predators are so graphic, I can’t even begin to describe them, other than to say they are repulsive,” Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said during a press conference this morning (Aug. 12). “”For years, social media has given our children a new platform to talk with and engage people across the globe.
“Unfortunately, it has also become a place where online predators can hide behind a computer screen. As your sheriff, I will continue to chase down these vile human beings and put them behind bars, where they belong.”
From July 28 to July 30, sheriff’s detectives went undercover during “Operation Small Talk” to pose as minors in hopes of catching sexual predators in the act. They created fake personas to speak with subjects online and on various social media platforms.
Attorney General Moody’s office worked with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to take predatory individuals off the streets, according to Chronister.
“As attorney general, I am proud of the work of our statewide prosecutors and the Hillsborough County deputies that resulted in the arrests of these monsters,” Moody said. “As a mother, I am deeply disturbed at how many predators are out there—online and in our communities—looking to harm children. Thanks to great police work, there are a few less in our midst today and that should serve as a bold warning to anyone looking to harm a child in Florida.”
In addition to HCSO’s proactive approach to putting predators behind bars, Chronister is reminding parents and guardians to pay attention to who their children are chatting with online. Chronister released a public service announcement highlighting the ways they can safeguard their kids from potential predators. Click here to view the PSA.
Click here to view a video of some of the arrests.
MAIN PHOTO SHOWS TWO OF THE ARRESTS TAKEN FROM VIDEO OF ARRESTS. COURTESY OF THE HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE.
Hillsborough Sheriff | Arrests | Crime | Tampabay News | News Tampa
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