Local police discourage the vigilante stings as they worry about public safety
Andy Cross, The Denver Post
By Noelle Phillips | firstname.lastname@example.org | The Denver Post
PUBLISHED: August 11, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. | UPDATED: August 11, 2021 at 9:09 a.m.
Tommy Fellows hands shook as he looked at the text message from a man who said he wanted to meet a teenage girl for sex.
“What are u going to wear for daddy when I pick u up?” the message said.
Fellows handed the phone back to his colleague, Celeste Hilton, who was pretending to be a 13-year-old girl.
“Does my makeup look trashy enough?” asked Hilton, who had just applied thick, black eyeliner.
She snapped a selfie, then altered the image with Face App so that she appeared 20 years younger than she actually is. Hilton texted the photo, hoping to keep the man interested in meeting her. The two started packing their backpacks inside the garage of Fellows Westminster home, where he runs Colorado Ped Patrol — a YouTube channel established to expose internet predators.
“Let’s get him. I love it,” Fellows said. “These people are all disgusting.”
Hilton jumped and shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Five months ago, Fellows created Colorado Ped Patrol, a loose group of people who set up meetings online with child predators and then livestream their encounters to expose and shame the men who prey on children. Ped Patrol’s YouTube channel has more than 19,000 followers and last month the group gained notoriety on the East Coast after Fellows traveled to Atlantic City, N.J., to participate in a sting that ensnared a Pennsylvania police officer.
But the group’s vigilante stings, which occur in places like parking lots and city parks, are drawing warnings from police and prosecutors, who say Fellows and his crew put themselves and the public in danger. Law enforcement officials also say Fellows’ tactics don’t follow proper criminal procedure, making it difficult to bring charges against alleged perpetrators.
On this day, the man chatting with Hilton sent a flurry of text messages, many of them vile, about his plans for her. He told Hilton via text that he would drive from Colorado Springs to meet her at a park in Lakewood.
“I give them multiple outs. I don’t just tell them I’m 13 once. I tell them multiple times I’m 13,” she said.
This man takes the out.
Just as Fellows and Hilton were packing their gear for the meetup, the man texted that he wasn’t coming. His message said he was only role-playing and needed someone older than 18.
The excitement evaporated.
“That’s a bummer,” Fellows said.
Sex offender walks free after he’s snared by ‘paedo hunters’ (“The charges were listed as ‘attempts’ because the alleged correspondence was said to involve a ‘decoy vigilante group’ rather than communication with actual children.”)