CRIME

Bountiful man arrested for enticing a minor after vigilante group ‘Predator Poachers’ tipped police

Apr 8, 2024, 6:14 PM | Updated: Apr 9, 2024, 10:16 am

BOUNTIFUL — A 55-year-old man was arrested Sunday by West Bountiful police after a vigilante group, called Predator Poachers, tipped them to evidence of child sexual abuse materials that the man owned, among other child sexual abuse allegations.

According to the arrest document, Predator Poachers had been posing online as an 11-year-old girl, “Emily,” for a period of two months. Alex Rosen, Predator Poachers founder, gave police a printout of messages sent back and forth between “Emily,” and the man suspected of having sexual abuse materials, David Smoot.

The document states the printout began with a message from Smoot on Feb. 7, asking the girl if she wanted to be friends. A Predator Poachers employee responded by saying “Hello I am 11.” Smoot then began asking the disguised account sexually charged questions and explaining sexual acts.

“Several times throughout the printout David asked for her address and to meet up,” the document states.

Before police were involved, the court document details a visit that Predator Poachers made to Smoot’s residence on Sunday morning, before the arrest. They conducted a recorded interview, which was reviewed later by police. In the interview, Rosen reassured Smoot that speaking with them was voluntary.

David Smoot’s place of residence. (KSL TV)

Smoot then was recorded acknowledging some of the inappropriate sexual conversations he’d had with “Emily.” He also admitted he spoke to other young girls on the internet, including one he received child sexual abuse images from over Skype. He also admitted to receiving 40 or 50 explicit pictures of young girls, from someone who had “gathered them from the dark web,” the document states.

When asked if Smoot approached “Emily,” asking if she wanted to have sex with him, he acknowledged that he did, but “was waiting until she was older.”

When investigators questioned Smoot, the arrest document states he admitted to police that he’d been the one messaging “Emily.” He confirmed the explicit photographs, and without investigators prompting, he admitted to having multiple conversations with girls online.

The arrest document said officers confiscated all electronic devices from Smoot’s property, according to Smoot. Another device’s notification alarm went off, though, and despite Smoot’s denial, officers located a pink cell phone. After initially stating it was his brother’s, Smoot later told officers it was the device he’d been using to communicate with “Emily.”

Smoot was charged in 2nd District Court with enticing a minor. His charge was specified in charging documents as a first-degree felony. Police said their investigation is just getting started, and there may be more charges for Smoot later.

Predator Poachers

KSL TV spoke with Chief Brandon Erickson, with West Bountiful police, about the involvement of Predator Poachers in this case, and their role in general. Erickson said his team was not familiar with the group but knew about other groups.

Erickson said he doesn’t recommend that people participate in predator poaching operations, because of the “intricacies of these types of investigations.”

“I know this particular group chooses to go out and try to confront the people in person, and that’s definitely not safe,” he said. “Despite their best intentions, I mean some of their behavior may actually hinder a case and prevent prosecution.”

Erickson said that if people are trying to go out and confront possible sex abuse suspects, there could be potential charges for everyone involved, including the poachers.

“It just depends on the circumstances,” he said.

Erickson said the allegations of child sexual abuse images made by Predator Poachers on their recording have not been verified by police yet.

KSL TV asked Rosen what he felt about Erickson’s perspective. Rosen acknowledged the risks of the job of interfering with online predators “without a badge.”

“Everything is a risk,” he said. “We take responsibility for our successes and our failures.”

He said that sometimes not being a cop while he’s working can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes, suspects are more open. Sometimes they’re more defensive.

“I just want people to know, you know not to live paranoid … but a pedophile could be anyone,” he said. “Parents, keep your head on a swivel.”


Contributing: Garna Mejia, KSL TV

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Bountiful man arrested for enticing a minor after vigilante group ‘Predator Poachers’ tipped police