Petaluma man arrested in child sexual predator sting

June 14, 2013 5:31:27 PM PDT
A Bay Area man is accused of a sickening crime. He was busted in an online sting operation in which police say he took the bait to meet an 11-year-old girl with disabilities for sex. The girl didn't exist, but the charges he faces sure do.

It's the kind of crime that no one wants to think about, but it can happen on a street corner or in a neighborhood anywhere in the Bay Area. We have a very behind the scenes glimpse into what it takes to arrest predators and the toll it takes on detectives.

It can take months of chat online for detectives to develop a rapport with a predator. Working together, a task force from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office and Homeland Security has made two arrests so far this year.

The most recent arrest took place at a street corner in downtown San Jose, right across the street from the Federal Building and Homeland Security offices. Officials say Shawhan Shams of Petaluma was arrested after he showed up, expecting to engage in sex with a minor.

Investigators say they first made contact with the 23-year-old suspect eight months ago online. The undercover agent from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Task Force offered up an 11-year-old girl with disabilities for sex and that Shams took the bait.

They also say he brought several items. And without getting into detail, they were consistent with illicit sexual activity and physical abuse.

"Anytime we can get subjects like this off the street, we prevented a child from being abused," said Deputy Kurtis Stenderup. "We prevented a child from being hurt, one less victim."

Investigators say Shams has admitted to wanting to have sex with the young girl and inflict physical abuse. He faces two charges -- attempted lewd acts of a child under the age of 14 and attempted rape.

We can't show you this undercover detective's face, but we can share how this job impacts his own life and family.

"You learn some of the places they like to hang out, and you think to yourself, if I was there with my family, many people in the community were there with their families, and who knows what this person was thinking at the various turns and who knows if there are other victims out there," he said.

The chat can be explicit as the detective tries to learn what the predator wants. Here's a tame example of what goes on during an online chat, "If you're not interested, no worries," said the detective while typing. "And then the suspect, 'tell me more, I would just like to blank.'"

The more explicit it gets, the more it puts detectives past their own comfort zone.

"We get goosebumps just having to type some of this stuff," the detective said. "So it's not easy."

However, the process can lead to getting predators and those who exchange child pornography in handcuffs. Most cases end up in plea deals because of the damaging dialogue captured online.

For the detectives, it's nearly impossible to share what they do with their families.

"When they go home at night, they have to transition," Deputy Stenderup said. "They have to put their father, mother, a parent figure to their kids at home, and they have to forget everything they did at work."


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