Question: If someone were sexually preying on your child, what would you do?
A Spokane father faced that question recently, and his answer raised a slew of new questions about vigilante justice. An AP article (TNT 6/19) described the disturbing sexual predation of the man’s 15-year-old daughter and the family’s ruse to lure her abuser and detain him until the police arrived.
After checking up on their daughter’s Facebook account – an eminently justifiable privacy invasion – the girl’s parents realized that their daughter had become sexually involved with a 30-year-old man. One can imagine the swirling, perhaps even homicidal, thoughts, that went through their minds before the parents cooked up a scheme to trap their daughter’s alleged rapist.
Setting aside their decision for a moment, who could blame any parent for wanting justice for their child? And for the record, it worked: The father and his friends detained the bad guy, a 30-year-old Federal Way man, and the police arrested him.
Also for the record, it could have gone horribly wrong.
Before reviewing this scheme in hindsight, it is important to recognize the obvious. When it comes to protecting one’s children, the question is not, What will you do?; rather, it is, What won’t you do?
In other words, if you touch someone’s child then you should know that all bets are off.
Still, the parents’ decision to go it alone is troubling. If there was an attempt to contact the police prior to detaining the alleged rapist, the brief article made no mention of it. Clearly, the best option would have been to consult with police before dialing 911 to say, “Hey, we’re sitting my the guy who raped my daughter – wanna come get him?
For allegedly initiating a sexual relationship and attempting to elope with a 15-year-old girl, the suspect could face charges of a Rape of a child 3rd degree (a Class C felony) and even Kidnapping (less likely). These are serious crimes. The challenge is to provide evidence that corresponds to the elements of each crime, a much more complex task than civilians might think.
Investigating serious crimes is, after all, a serious business. Undercover operations such as the Spokane family’s ruse have further complications as well, including legal issues such as entrapment and civil liability, and safety issues involving risk to those involved and innocent bystanders. These risks are magnified tenfold where amateurs are concerned.
Consider just a few scenarios where this ruse could have gone sideways:
- The target sends an unwitting proxy in his stead and the captors unlawfully detain that person
- The target resists the detention and an untrained captor harms or even kills the subject inadvertently
- The target pulls out a knife or firearm and, in the ensuing gunfire, people uninvolved are harmed or killed
All of the above could jepordize the ensuing criminal proceedings and might also precipitate civil or criminal action against the Spokane father and his friends. That is far from the justice this tormented family deserved.
Speaking from experience, sting operations are rapidly evolving, fluid exercises with an unending list of unexpected variables capable of ruining the day. Even with specialized undercover training, police officers die every year carrying them out, so the involvement of untrained and emotionally involved participants is just a plain old bad idea.
In all fairness, this assessment of the Spokane incident does assume that the police were never consulted. If they had been and, for whatever reason, were unable to move forward on this investigation, well…what then?
I have written on the topic of vigilantes before. The target of those vendettas were often ex-cons who had already served their time, and often the person seeking revenge was not directly involved in the incidents.
The incident in Spokane resembles those vengeful actions in only a minor way. The Federal Way man allegedly involved with the teenaged victim had yet to be arrested, and the father’s ruse and detention seems to have been handled in a reasonable manner.
Yes, something had to be done, and at least in this case, it all ended well.
Unfortunately, that is only one scenario out of countless others, and one can not always count on luck.
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