A 37-year-old veteran named Joshua Clark who was charged with child solicitation didn’t know the 14-year-old girl he thought he was texting with was actually an adult, the Washington Post reports. Law enforcement had been using this tactic for years, investing millions to train detectives on how to go online, pretend to be teenagers and wait for predators to emerge. Clark knew they conducted sting operations like these; after serving in the Army and working in a prison, he’d been hired as a police officer himself. That was until he was arrested and fired. Now on this July morning, the jury was going to meet the person responsible for catching this cop. Eric Schmutte, a 35-year-old welder, began to explain why he was there. He wasn’t just a welder. He was the founder of an organization called Predator Catchers Indianapolis.
“Our mission,” he said, “is to expose men and women that are online, preying on kids.” “And when you say ‘expose,’ ” the prosecutor said, “what’s your plan to expose them?” “Put their faces out online,” Schmutte explained. “Post videos so that community knows … these men and women are out here, and they’re okay with the idea of meeting up with your children for sexual activity.” For two years, Schmutte had been taking it upon himself to do what the police do: Go on dating and social media apps. Pretend to be 14 or 12 or 8. Agree to meet up with an adult to do something sexual. When the alleged predators show up, Schmutte and a team of impassioned volunteers are waiting, ready to scold, shame and shout, live-streaming every moment of the confrontation on the internet. When Schmutte first started out, no police officers or prosecutors wanted to talk to him. They dismissed him as a dangerous vigilante. These days, things are different. “Almost every detective wants to work with us,” Schmutte said.