Row 1 (L-R): Vincent, Staggs, Wilson, Shaddon | Row 2 (L-R): Farris, Puryear, Steven, Gunter | Row 3 (L-R): Curtis, Johnston, Alford, Brown

A dozen people face felony charges and two dozen victims have been identified in a large-scale, collaborative operation to target online child exploitation and sextortion in Tennessee.

Over a three-month period, from February to April, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, housed within its Cybercrime and Digital Evidence Unit (CDEU), conducted Operation Protecting Tomorrow, with work extending to 21 counties in the state and involving almost 20 local, state, and federal law enforcement partners.

Operation Protecting Tomorrow’s purpose was to identify and locate children who were victims of sextortion and online sexual exploitation, along with identifying and arresting individuals who aim to harm children online. These investigations stemmed from cybertips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), undercover investigations, and tips from the community.

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During the operation, TBI ICAC Task Force Agents identified and located 18 known child victims of sextortion in Tennessee who were reported through NCMEC cybertips reported from several social media platforms, including Snapchat and Instagram. One child victim was identified and located in Alabama. TBI agents are still attempting to identify and locate an additional 22 children who are victims of sextortion, aged 11 to 17.

As part of the operation, TBI agents executed 10 residential search warrants throughout the state, seizing 181 electronic devices and one child sex doll. An initial preview of these devices has shown more than 264,000 images and videos of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). Agents expect the number of images and videos to grow as the examination of evidence continues.

During Operation Protecting Tomorrow, five of the 24 child victims were identified and rescued as victims of brand-new sexual exploitation content being created by the offender and shared on social media platforms.

The following individuals were arrested during Operation Protecting Tomorrow and charged with Sexual Exploitation of Children and other related offenses. They were booked into their respective county jails:

1. John Vincent, 53, Murfreesboro: Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (2 Counts)

2. Courtney Staggs, 29, Jamestown: Aggravated Rape of a Child (1 Count), Aggravated Sexual Battery (1 Count), Especially Aggravated Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (6 Counts), Aggravated Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (6 Counts)

3. Cody Wilson, 31, Columbia: Solicitation of a Minor (1 Count), Soliciting Sexual Exploitation of a Minor – Exploitation of a Minor by Electronic Means (1 Count)

4. Kyle Shaddon, 28, Paris: Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (3 Counts)

5. Justin Farris, 41, Paris: Especially Aggravated Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (1 Count), Aggravated Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (1 Count)

6. Marcus Puryear, 47, Somerville: Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (20 Counts), Aggravated Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (20 Counts)

7. Shawn Steven, 32, Decatur: Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (5 Counts)

8. Cody Gunter, 29, Niota: Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (1 Count), Solicitation of a Minor (1 Count)

9. Johnathan Curtis, 32, McMinnville: Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (1 Count)

10. Clifton Johnston, 38, McMinnville: Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (1 Count)

11. Garry Alford, 42, McMinnville: Sexual Exploitation of Minor (1 Count)

12. Ernest Brown, 45, Paris: Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (6 Counts), Aggravated Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (2 Counts)

More arrests may be forthcoming in this operation once complete forensic processing of the seized electronic devices has occurred.

The following 19 agencies assisted the TBI in Operation Protecting Tomorrow: Athens Police Department, 9th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office (ICAC), 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force, Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, Henry County Sheriff’s Department, Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, Maury County Sheriff’s Department, McMinn County Sheriff’s Department, McMinnville Police Department, Meigs County Sheriff’s Department, Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Department, Bowie County, Texas Sheriff’s Department (ICAC), Lansing, Illinois Police Department, Texarkana, Texas Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Homeland Security Investigations, United States Secret Service

“The massive volume of vile images and videos our agents uncovered – and the number of suspects identified, and victims helped during this operation – should trouble every Tennessean,” said TBI Director David Rausch. “The internet is a dangerous place, full of predators looking for their next young victim. We’re doing our part at TBI, but every parent, grandparent, and caregiver must also be vigilant. Help your children know the dangers and know what to do if they’re scared, confused, or asked to do the wrong thing online.”

The TBI has information about online dangers, sextortion, and common-sense tips for the public on its website, at www.tn.gov/tbi. Parents and caregivers looking for resources aimed at helping children develop online safety skills should visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website, at www.netsmartz.org.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is an ICAC affiliate of the Tennessee ICAC Task Force. Anyone with information about these cases or other cases of online child exploitation should contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Tipline at 1-800-TBI-FIND, [email protected], or report via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) CyberTipline at CyberTipline.org.

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