INDIANAPOLIS — The confrontation begins at a side door of Lebanon Senior High School.
Viewers watched via Facebook Live as a woman approached the school, about 40 minutes northwest of downtown Indianapolis, and was greeted by Brian J. Boyer, a band teacher who, in that moment, was allegedly waiting for a 14-year-old girl to meet him for sex.
“Do you wanna come out and talk to me for a minute?” the woman asked.
“Basically, I brought you out here ‘cause we know who you are, I’m definitely not 14, you’ve definitely been talking to a decoy,” the woman said while walking with Boyer into the nearby parking lot.
The nearly 20-minute video is one of dozens posted to the PCI: Predator Catchers Indianapolis Facebook page. Their confrontation with Boyer was eventually interrupted by the school’s principal, who directed the decoy and Eric Schmutte, the group’s founder, to take their complaints to the district’s administration office.
Within hours of the encounter being streamed on Facebook, Lebanon Police announced Boyer’s arrest and the school district placed him on administrative leave. Boyer, whose job was terminated Jan. 29, is charged with one count of child solicitation.
‘Vigilantes’ just want to help. But there are risks.
Schmutte, 34, said he started his group after becoming outraged that child predators aren’t held fully accountable for their actions.
“The way I see it, the justice system is not doing what it needs to do as far as locking up these guys and giving them actual sentences,” he told IndyStar, part of the USA TODAY Network. “So, us exposing them is the next best thing so people can at least know that these guys are predators.”
Yet, there’s another side to this picture: However noble their intentions, this kind of internet detective work carries significant legal and safety risks.
Online citizen groups hunting for potential predators is by no means a new phenomenon, but it’s often discouraged by law enforcement due to safety concerns for both the citizen investigator and their “catch.” In several instances across the country — including the case that contributed to the cancellation of Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” — subjects have died by suicide after being confronted by investigators.
And their work will not always be rewarded. While some law enforcement agencies will take their screenshots and videos as tips to investigate, others have outright said they will not accept any information from the groups.