FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KGPE) – Fresno County has seen a significant increase in crimes against children. Authorities report they’ve received more than 4,000 cyber tips this year alone, the highest number ever.
A team of six detectives with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office is doing a job that helps local parents sleep better at night, catching child predators. Day in, day out, they sift through thousands of pornographic images of children, an already tough job that just became more difficult.
Lieutenant Brandon Pursell says recent case laws in California are slowing the process of putting predators behind bars. Law enforcement says it’s hard to hear what happens to children in these cases, but it is important to listen to and learn from them.
“In order to catch these predators, sometimes you have to go into that world, which is hell, and find them,” explained Lt. Pursell.
Internet Crimes Against Children, known as ICAC, is a network of 61 task forces across the country, with one here in the Central Valley.
“They are spending their day looking at the worst possible content that anyone could possibly imagine. That is their job,” Lt. Pursell said.
Their job is to intensively review thousands of tips and hunt down the people responsible for sharing and producing pornographic images of children. The workload of these detectives has grown tremendously, with the number of tips growing by 50% compared to previous years.
“The amount of work these detectives have is just mind-blowing. Just today, we had more than 180 cyber tips and that’s just today,” said Lt. Brandon Pursell.
That’s 180 images tracked online through ICAC, which are pinged back to the Central Valley for investigators to follow up on.
Notable arrests this year led by the Fresno County ICAC Task Force include the arrest of Guadalupe Soto Junior of Fresno, charged for possessing more than 100 images of infant molestation.
Michael Martin of Fresno was charged for possessing more than 1,000 DVDs depicting child pornography.
Adrian Enriquez worked at the Fresno VA and was charged for possession of more than 1,000 videos and pictures of toddlers victimized by gang rape.
Michael Alonso of Fresno was charged for sending explicit material to a 13-year-old and attempting to meet the child for sex.
“You’re not safe doing that,” Lt. Pursell warned. “We’re coming after you, relentlessly.”
On the task force’s latest arrest, CBS47 was there with our cameras.
“We received a cyber tip through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” said Sgt. Chad Stokes.
A cyber tip that ultimately led to the arrest of Alexander Felipe Galan.
“This guy is absolutely a predator. He’s an adult pretending to be a very young juvenile, 12 to 13-years-old, specifically to entice other 12 to 13-year-olds for sexual purposes,” Sgt. Stokes explained.
Law enforcement served a warrant and raided the home for evidence.
A dog named ‘ICAC Jack’ is a valuable member of their force, sniffing out a chemical inside electronic devices.
“ICAC Jack went in and found a cell phone that was hidden under the bed,” said Sgt. Chad Stokes.
Members of the task force continued to collect suspected evidence and remove it from the home. Meanwhile downstairs, detectives began interrogating their suspect in a mobile van.
Galan was arrested and taken to the Fresno County Jail following the search. In recent months, the process to arrest these predators faces new challenges after new policies were enacted.
In the state of California, certain case laws are prolonging the process of catching predators. To even view evidence, more warrants have to be requested by investigators, which takes time. One search warrant can involve up to ten pages of paperwork.
“They’re putting extra steps in our process to legally get this information,” said Lt. Pursell. “There’s extra search warrants that need to be written, that equates to extra time where my detectives are having to type out search warrants instead of going out and catching these predators.”
The legal delays involve a possible breach of privacy, but law enforcement says explicit content involving children should not be protected.
“We are having to take extra steps on each of these cases now. It is a little disheartening when you have these case laws come down that make your job significantly harder,” said Lt. Pursell.
Lt. Pursell says the members of his task force are diligent in their work to protect children from predators.
“They are legitimately saving children regularly,” Lt. Pursell said.
He has a strong message to parents: monitor and be involved in what your child does online.
“You are the biggest tool we have in combatting this problem with children. We need to protect our children,” Lt. Pursell said.
And he has a stronger message to predators:
“No matter how you’re trying to hide, we’re going to hunt you down and find you.”
As for Galan, authorities say he has since bailed out of jail and is pleading not guilty to charges of lewd acts with a minor.
He’s due back in court on January 27.