When I got there, the house was under siege.
It was a nice house and it fit the neighborhood. Every house upper middle class, each groomed just so and color-coordinated, yards immaculate. Two vehicles in every driveway, usually a sedan and an SUV, both polished and gleaming in the early morning sun. Cats watched from living room windows and dogs barked, though none too loudly or aggressively.
But this place was besieged by law enforcement. County officers, city officers, officers whose uniforms I didn’t recognize. Squad cars, both marked and plain, lined the street and extended all the way around the corner.
At the suspect’s house, everyone was grim. The cops who weren’t inside working the warrant were stone-faced. There were no jokes or flip comments. The tension was as thick as a west Texas sand storm and I understood it…even as a rookie on the task force I understood it and felt it. I knew what the search warrant was for. I knew what we were all hoping to find.
Or rather, what we were both certain and afraid we’d find.
Last year, I backed into a case. It was simple enough…a registered sex offender playing basketball on school grounds. But that simple case ballooned into one that included 17 possible felony charges for everything from sexting minors to grooming minors to actual sex with a 14-year old girl.
Because of that case, my sheriff attached me to the Illinois Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Kiddie porn traded over the internet; via computer or cell phone or tablet or whatever other electronic means come along.
Which sounds great…except I know dick about computers. Thus I spent the last year getting trained on how to track this stuff and put together prosecutable cases.
So on this day, in this quiet and perfectly-coiffed neighborhood, what we were looking for?
Evidence of one of the top traders of child pornography in the entire state.
We found it…easily. There was no serious hunting involved, no need to search and probe and take apart his computer’s every byte.
We knocked on the door, his wife answered, he took us to his computer, showed us where the images were, said his wife didn’t have anything to do with it, and sat quietly while we brought his life down around him and left it in flaming rubble.
But it wasn’t us. We didn’t set him to delve into this world, we didn’t set him to contact people around the world and trade pictures of sex with 8-year olds or sexualized poses of 10-year olds. The spark that set flame to his life was not the task force, it was him and him alone. It was whatever desire drove him to dive into such a sordid world.
Was he sexually attracted to children? Or was he attracted to the money that could be made from those who were attracted to children? I don’t know. Even if my job had involved dealing with that guy after we found the material, I’m not sure I’d have found an answer. Maybe he didn’t even know. There were no indications that he’d ever touched a child, but there had to be some draw, right? I mean, there has to be some attraction beyond the money. I can’t imagine someone getting involved in kiddie porn simply for the money.
So the operation, the first of two spread over two days, went smoothly. Our part was over in just a few hours. And afterward, we all went to a late breakfast and there wasn’t another mention of that guy in that upper middle class house. There were stories and jokes about hundreds of other search warrants, but no more about that day’s arrestee.
It struck me as strangely aloof.
I’ve been in law enforcement for the better part of a decade and I’ve come to understand – and wildly appreciate – the gallows humor and the perversity of the job (when I’m having a good, fun day, someone else is, by definition, having a really shitty day…and that’s totally perverse).
But the ‘after’ of this operation seemed oddly detached. Either the team didn’t want to talk about this guy because he’d affected them so profoundly, or they’d seen so many of these guys, with so much of this material, that it had become routine unless there was something specifically challenging and new and different.
Honestly, I think they were bored with this guy and his images. The senior members of the task force – those guys who’d been doing this for some years – recognized a vast majority of the pictures we found so in a strange way, it was simply business as usual.
“Oh, that’s the ‘Ashlee’ series,” or “Yeah, that’s from the ‘Maddy’ pictures,” or “A guy in Jersey took those a decade ago.”
So I believe they were bored. This guy had been easy to crack and his images had been the same old images everyone had seen a thousand times.
That would change dramatically the second day.