ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Escondido police arrested a man on suspicion of possessing sexually explicit photos and videos of children after a cyber vigilante group reported him for allegedly engaging in an illicit conversation with an adult posed as a minor.
Douglas Smith, 45, was arrested at his Vista home on the morning of Aug. 25, Lt. Suzanne Baeder with the Escondido Police Department (EPD) said — several months after the out-of-state group reported his alleged communications with the “decoy” minor.
According to Baeder, the group called law enforcement on May 24, when the group drove to Smith’s former residence in Escondido to confront him. However, at the time the group contacted the department, officers did not yet have probable cause to make an arrest.
Following the confrontation, the vigilante group was encouraged to bring the evidence of Smith’s alleged communications with the decoy minor to EPD. They met with detectives from the Family Protection and Child Exploitation Unit, as well as the Escondido police detectives.
Escondido police detectives, who are also members of the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, initiated an investigation into the incident, Baeder said.
According to EPD, a search warrant was issued for Smith’s residence to seize his electronic devices during the course of the investigation. After reviewing data from his devices, detectives allegedly identified hundreds of photos and videos depicting the sexual abuse of children.
The discovery of this material and the preceding investigation prompted Smith’s arrest. According to Baeder, he faces a felony possession charge, as it relates to child sexual assault material.
While the out-of-state group assisted in this case, Baeder added that EPD, as well as the San Diego County District Attorney discourages cyber vigilantism.
Alternatively, they do encourage anyone with information related to child sexual abuse, exploitation or online sexual enticement of a child to contact their local law enforcement agency or the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
“Law enforcement professionals investigating these types of egregious crimes have specialized training and follow specific protocols established by ICAC which ensure proper preservation of evidence and professional investigation,” Baeder said.