An epidemic of innocence: As child pornography cases grow online, so does CCSO’s effort to put predators behind bars

By Don Coble don@opcfla.com
Posted 2/24/21

Sheriff’s office employs help of cyber detectives, computer-sniffing dogORANGE PARK – The stacks of folders at the Internet Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking unit of open …

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An epidemic of innocence: As child pornography cases grow online, so does CCSO’s effort to put predators behind bars

Posted

Sheriff’s office employs help of cyber detectives, computer-sniffing dog

ORANGE PARK – The stacks of folders at the Internet Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking unit of open cases keeps growing at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office’s Investigations Headquarters.

Each file represents a case involving the possible exploitation and abuse of a child. They are filled with disturbing images and accounts from around the world that can be traced back to Clay County.

In the darkened background, lights flash on oversized computer towers that are used to track down society’s most contemptable predators. Like the growing number of cases, the computers never stop.

Sheriff Michelle Cook announced Monday her department arrested 62-year-old Patrick William Roach of Orange Park on Feb. 18 for possessing 10 or more images of children having sex.

The sheriff’s office, along with the FBI, State Attorney’s Office and Department of Homeland Security have been besieged with tips and complaints, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since many children are home instead of in the classroom, the chances of them being targeted by a predator on their cellphones or electronic devices have increased.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported the number of cases it’s forwarded to local and state officials jumped from three million in 2019 to 7.7 million in 2020. Tech companies reported more than 45 million photos and images of children being sexually abused were posted online.

In 2020, CCSO received 154 tips about child porn, which has led to 17 search warrants and 21 arrests, Cook said.

“I think, from the law enforcement perspective, we’ve always recognized and realized just how dangerous these types of search warrants are,” Cook said. “And we’ve always taken, at least since I’ve been here, the necessary precautions because they are dangerous.

“This has been around Clay County for some time. It’s a priority for me. It’s absolutely vital we keep our children from sexual abuse. I highlight this information to show you the sheer volume.”

The investigation on Roach started when the NCMEC told Clay County authorities on Aug. 17, 2020, it uncovered 18 uploaded files classified as “child pornography” to a cloud-based account in Orange Park. According to the arrest report, there were nine additional linked cyber tips for a total of 180 suspected child abuse images.

After tracking down the Internet Protocol address and linking it to a home on Glynlyon Drive. CCSO got a search warrant for the internet provider. That revealed 180 files had been downloaded from July 27, 2020, to Aug. 5, 2020.

The ICAC unit, searched Roach’s home on Feb. 18. With the assistance of a K-9 Ty, one of the few dogs in Florida trained specifically to detect electronics, deputies found devices containing more than 1,000 images of child pornography.

“Many electronic devices, such as computers, hard drives, cellphones and other digital media were seized for further digital forensic work,” Cook said.

Roach immediately was arrested.

Agents are particularly cautious during pornography raids. On Feb. 2, two FBI agents were shot and killed in Sunrise serving a warrant for child pornography and violent crimes against children.

“These suspects have a lot to lose if they get caught,” Cook said. “This work is difficult. It is dangerous, detailed-oriented and technical, but it is absolutely vital that we keep our children safe.”

The ICAC has several “souped up computer” forensic machines which processes digital evidence.

“All around here in the room are forensic machines that we use to forensically process and examine evidence that we seize during investigations,” Ellis said. “Anything and everything and in every way possible – as ancient as 3½ floppies to writable CDs, thumb drives, Micro SD cards, cellphones, hard drives.”

K-9 Ty has become one of the county’s best weapons for catching predators, said ICAC Detective Ryan Ellis. The English Golden Labrador is one of three in North Florida that can detect chemical odors of electronic devices capable of electronic storage, Ellis said.

K-9 Ty helped FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents uncover evidence that led to the arrests of a U.S. Navy lieutenant and a Chinese national woman in Jacksonville for conspiracy to make false statements to a firearms dealer to illegally obtain guns.

“Some offenders who have been involved with this for large amounts of time, do what we call ‘collect,’ and they keep and memorialize imagery of sexual abuse of children,” he said.

The dog’s playful nature also allows it to be used for therapy for young victims dealing with anxiety while being questioned.

Roach is being held on a $250,030 bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for March 23 at the Clay County Courthouse.

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