(CBS4) — Thomas Fellows, 39, of Westminster, owns a window washing company — but right now, he’s more concerned with wiping out online predators.
“There’s too many of them out there,” Fellows said. “So I want to do this.”READ MORE: Evacuations Ordered For Sylvan Lake State Park Visitors, Some Eagle County Residents Due To Wildfire
About three months ago, Fellows put his business on hold and decided to spend all of his time trying to “sting” online predators attempting to lure children into sexually-charged meetings.
He started “Colorado Ped Patrol,” and boasts of confronting about 90 men in the last three months — who all thought they were about to meet a teenage boy or girl.
Fellows says about a dozen of the men have been arrested and charged by Front Range law enforcement agencies.
“I can get online and, within an hour, catch a guy,” he said.
“I absolutely love, I love it,” said Fellows, shortly before he went out last month on another “sting.”
He typically goes on various social media sites posing as a teenage boy or girl, and says men will initiate contact, discuss having sexual relations with the supposed teen, send or request inappropriate photos, and arrange a meeting. Fellows keeps records of all those texts or chats.
But when the men show up, they are confronted by Fellows and his supporters — who livestream the confrontations to thousands of followers via Youtube.
He frequently elicits confessions from the men about what they were attempting to do. In many cases, Fellows’ group contacts police, who will sometimes make an arrest. He typically turns all of his evidence over to police departments — which are well aware of his efforts. Fellows said the first day he attempted a “sting,” he “caught” three people. On another day, he said he caught four men.
While Lakewood police have arrested one of the men Fellows “caught,” they take a dim view of what he is doing.
“I have concerns about these vigilante groups,” said Commander Randy McNitt, who oversees his department’s investigations.
“There’s some real safety concerns… we have no control over communications or evidence they are obtaining,” McNitt said. “I think its a bad idea. I think a citizen vigilante group is fraught with peril.”
McNitt said a good outcome, such as an arrest, does not justify the methods Fellows’ group is using.READ MORE: How Cycling 29,029 Vertical Feet During 24-Hour Summer Solstice Ride Is Helping Fight Homelessness
Other police agencies echoed McNitt’s sentiments. Although Broomfield police have shown up and arrested multiple men confronted by Fellows, the department’s Public Information Officer, Rachel Welte, said:
“While we appreciate Mr. Fellows’ good intentions, the Broomfield Police Department strongly recommends community members contact local law enforcement if they suspect, or are aware of, any illegal activity happening online or elsewhere and allow the police to investigate.
“Confronting potential suspects without official law enforcement involvement places individuals at both legal and physical risk. We do not endorse Mr. Fellows, his actions, or the content of his YouTube channel or anyone else engaged in similar actions.”
Fellows told CBS4 that when he started this project, police recommended to him not to do what he is doing.
“It’s a job for the cops,” he acknowledges. “But, they’re overwhelmed — there’s too many people out there.”
Following an interview with CBS4, Fellows and a friend traveled to a nearby park, where a 22-year-old man had arranged to meet a 14-year-old girl named “Alicia.”
In reality, Fellows had been posing online as Alicia, and he had been communicating with the 22-year-old man online for several days before the meeting.
CBS4 watched from a distance as the man arrived at the park, on schedule. Fellows livestreamed the confrontation with the man who had sent a picture of what he said were his genitals to “Alicia.” The man had discussed his lack of sexual diseases and various sex acts he was interested in.
When confronted, the man claimed it was his first time ever attempting to meet an underage girl. Fellows says virtually every man he confronts claims it is their first time.
After a few minutes of talking to Fellows, the man ran to his car and took off — as Fellows continued streaming live on YouTube.
CBS4 confirmed three of the men Fellows recently “stung” had been arrested and charged — and one of them was a previous sex offender, according to court records.
Fellows said he has no intention of backing down from his vigilante takedowns.
“The ones we catch,” he said, “are not innocent.”MORE NEWS: Growing Wildfires Trigger Air Quality Alert Including Vail, Glenwood Springs, Craig And Meeker
McNitt said what Fellows and his group are doing should serve as a good reminder to parents to be vigilant about who their children are communicating with online.