They troll the internet searching for the youngest and the most vulnerable. "They engage in conversations that are typically explicit," Matt Wright, a detective with the Bossier Parish District Attorney's office, said. They're internet predators, but, standing between them and Ark-La-Tex children is the Northwest Louisiana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Detectives from all over Louisiana spend anywhere from 5 to 150 hours on the internet chatting with predators. Wright says the predators discuss everything from their desires to requesting nude photographs. However, once they cross that boundary, it's just a matter of time before they find themselves behind bars. But, for how long?
Our investigation reveals that in 2007, on average, internet predators in Caddo Parish seem to be getting far lower bonds than those caught in Bossier or Webster. Here are a few examples. Dr. Milton Slocum was arrested in February of this year after a 3 month investigation. Slocum allegedly chatted inappropriately with what he believed to be a child. He eventually tried to meet her at Columbia Park to exchange nude pictures. Slocum was charged with computer aided solicitation, indecent behavior with a juvenile and pornography involving a child. Judge Scott Crichton assigned his bond at $5,000 for each charge, a total of $15,000. Here's a case on the other side of the river: James Prine was also allegedly chatting with what he believed to be an underage girl. He also attempted to meet the child to have sex. His bond was assigned at $125,000. It was later lowered to $50,000. Another suspected predator, John Eric Howard, was arrested this past June in Shreveport and charged with computer aided solicitation and indecent behavior. His bond was $2600 for each count. Jeffrey Brooks was charged with the same crime, but, his bond was $35,000 dollars. The difference is that his case was handled in Bossier.
We took our findings to Caddo District Court Chief Judge Charles Scott. "Do you think the problem is that Caddo judges aren't taking these internet predator cases seriously," I asked. Scott assured me that was not the case. "Judges take those matters very seriously," he said. Scott says setting bonds is a balancing act. "You have to keep in mind that in addition to the balancing of the public safety," Scott said," the purpose of the bond is to be assured that the person will appear in court." With 4 judges in the criminal section, Scott says sometimes judges get cases late in the evening and all the evidence isn't immediately available.
Task force leader Bossier City Marshal Johnny Wyatt says he isn't concerned with bonds and sentences because that's not his responsibility as an officer of the law. "The hardest thing for police officers is not to worry about what the D.A. does or the judge does," Wyatt said," that's a real hard thing because we get involved with the case, we get involved with the victim." Sources tell KTAL that another reason for the discrepancy could be that Caddo sees significantly more criminal offenders than Bossier and Webster Parishes. Most of these suspected internet predators are not violent nor are they a flight risk, therefore, keeping them in jail under high bond is not necessary. Bonds can be raised or lowered in all Louisiana parishes upon appeal.