DECATUR – A total of 82 people were arrested, and 17 children were rescued or identified as victims during a mutually coordinated operation focused on persons who possess and distribute child pornography and those who are sexually exploiting children in other ways using technology and the internet.
Taking place in eight Southeastern states, the joint, proactive operation, Operation Southern Impact III, was coordinated by 10 Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces. The planning for Operation Southern Impact III began approximately four months ago and culminated in three days of investigative actions to include search warrant executions, undercover operations, arrests and sex offender compliance verification visits in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. A total of 171 law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies participated in the operation, including the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.
In Georgia, 31 people were arrested during Operation Southern Impact III. Most of those arrests involved the possession and/or distribution of child pornography. While investigators regularly target the trading of all types of child pornography, in Operation Southern Impact III investigators targeted those seeking out and distributing the most violent sexual abuse material involving infants and toddlers.
“The dedicated law enforcement professionals that are part of the Georgia ICAC Task Force will not cease searching for those who are producing, trading and collecting this graphic material,” stated Debbie Garner, special agent in charge of the GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit and Commander of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. “We will continue to work together to find, investigate and prosecute these predators.”
Seven of those arrested in Georgia traveled for the purpose of meeting and having sex with a minor. A goal of the operation was to arrest persons who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. The children these predators target are both boys and girls.
During the operation, four registered sex offenders were encountered and arrested in Georgia on charges related to child pornography. One of the registered sex offenders arrested during Operation Southern Impact III was initially arrested by the GBI during a very similar operation in 2015.
Additionally, as part of Operation Southern Impact III, Department of Community Supervision Officers across the state, working with numerous local law enforcement agencies, conducted searches and attempted warrant service on sex offenders that had violated the terms of their supervision. As a result of their efforts, 1,153 searches and 93 arrests were completed. Eight firearms, as well as ammunition, pornographic material, drugs and drug paraphernalia, were located during the searches. Of those arrested, 32 were under supervision for a computer-related sex offense.
In Georgia, a total of 56 search warrants were executed and 41 knock and talks were conducted during Operation Southern Impact III. Law enforcement officers conducting the searches were looking for evidence of possession and distribution of child pornography using the internet as well as evidence of other child exploitation related crimes. Over the course of the operation, 305 digital devices were examined on-site and 972 digital media and devices were seized as evidence. During these searches, illegal drugs and firearms were found as well.
Those arrested in Georgia were charged with crimes pursuant to O.C.G.A. 16-12-100.2, Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 2007. Additional charges are likely and other arrests will occur after analysis of seized digital devices.