Washington County Sheriff, St. George Police join in largest sex offender sting in Utah’s history

ST. GEORGE — In what is believed to be the largest sex offender enforcement operation in Utah’s history, United States Marshals and 11 local police agencies participated in “Operation Reboot,” including the two law enforcement agencies in Southern Utah, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

St. George Police Department’s interim chief, Kyle Whitehead, addresses crowd during press conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah, Aug. 18, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Justice, St. George News

During a press conference held at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, the U.S. Marshals Service, along with U.S. Attorney John W. Huber, Chief Kyle Whitehead of the St. George Police Department and a representative of the West Jordan Police Department, announced the results from the sting operation spearheaded by the U.S. Marshals Service.

The operation began Aug. 3, when agencies from all over Utah, including the St. George Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, participated in the sex offender enforcement and compliance operation.

During the two-week period, officers hit the streets to conduct sex offender compliance checks on 1,000 of Utah’s 8,000 registered sex offenders and found that 20%, or roughly 200 offenders checked, were non-compliant. This meant they did not meet their registration requirements under Utah law, which have one objective – to keep children safe.

Officers identified non-compliant sex offenders in every county and city that participated in the operation, including those offenders who “committed rape against children, parole fugitives and offenders living in homes with children present,” according to the statement.

More than 30 offenders were either arrested or are now being screened for prosecution as a result of the sting, and the status of another 125 offenders has not yet been verified.

The two-fold operation was focused on removing violent fugitive sex offenders from communities across the state, and also to conduct statewide sex-offender compliance checks to ensure that all Utah residents convicted of a sex offense and who are required by law to register as sex offenders have done so.

A video of the press conference courtesy of Fox 13 can be seen at the top of this report. 

2019 file photo of Washington County Sheriff’s deputies on state Route 18 after a vehicle pursuit near Dammeron Valley, Washington County, Utah, Sept. 14, 2019 | File photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The Violent Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team (VFAST), led by the U.S. Marshals Service accompanied by local law enforcement, also served state and federal warrants on fugitives wanted for committing sexual offenses, many of which were against children. The cases are then referred to either the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the county attorney’s office for the filing of charges.

In Southern Utah, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for tracking all sex offenders residing either in towns or unincorporated areas within the county, Washington County Sheriff’s Lt. Nate Abbott told St. George News.

Abbott also said that while the agency is vigilant when it comes to sex-offender compliance, participating in the sting provided additional funding and resources that allowed deputies to focus on a very important public service, he said, which is to not only verify that all sex offenders required to register have done so but to verify the information provided is accurate – not an easy task considering the sheriff’s office covers an area of more than 2,400 square miles.

The sheriff’s office worked closely with the St. George Police Department, an agency that also participated in the sting operation, Abbott said, and he was in regular contact with the department over the two-week period to verify home or work information provided by offenders, who in some cases recently moved, or who reside in the county and work in St. George, or visa versa, for example.

Over the course of two weeks, Abbott said he was talking to St. George Police Officer Tiffany Atkin, the department’s spokesperson, “almost daily.” He said they coordinated information between the city and the county “which worked out very well,” Abbott said, adding that “the St. George Police Department did a great job.”

Most importantly, Abbott said, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the safety of those living within the county, and ensuring that the public is provided accurate information with respect to the sex offenders living in their area is a vital component of public safety, and is a responsibility the department takes very seriously.

To that end, Abbott reported that all 45 sex offenders that fall under the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office were accounted for and in compliance, so no arrests were made during the operation.

Operation Reboot couldn’t have come at a better time, according to authorities, considering that schools were closed for several months. This all but eliminated the opportunity for school resource officers, teachers and counselors to learn of abuse that could be taking place in the home.

Moreover, with an interruption in school activities, the risk of a child being exposed to a sex offender increased, making it even more important for law enforcement to make sure the offenders are in compliance and are living up to the requirements as mandated by the courts – an objective focused on keeping children safe, the statement said.

Utilizing federal, state and local resources, officers and agents worked to seek out those fugitives that were in violation of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act passed in 2006, which designated the U.S. Marshals Service as the lead federal agency tasked with investigating violations involving sex offenders who are not registered and to assist local agencies in those efforts.

“Operation Reboot placed the highest priority on those who have committed violent acts and crimes against children,” the agency says.

Initiating a massive operation was no easy task, but the mission was an important one. According to U.S Marshal Matthew D. Harris, “there is nothing more important than protecting our children and our community from child sex predators.”

While the operation officially closed Aug. 11, officers will continue conducting several hundred more checks in the coming weeks to complete their goal of checking all 1,000 offenders.

U.S. Marshals Service’s Violent Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team – VFAST 

The U.S. Marshals Service is the federal government’s primary agency for fugitive investigations and has the broadest arrest authority among all federal law enforcement agencies. The VFAST team in St. George is comprised of officers and agents with the St. George Police Department, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Adult Probation and Parole.

Task force officers are state and local police officers who receive special deputations and while on the task force, these officers can exercise the authority granted to any U.S. marshal, such as crossing jurisdictional lines.

Last year, the marshal’s office conducted more than 63,300 sex offender compliance checks, initiated nearly 410 compliance operations, and of the more than 90,000 fugitives arrested nationwide, 11,000 were sex offenders.

Under International Megan’s Law, the Marshals Service works collaboratively with the Department of Homeland Security’s Angel Watch Center to ensure that sex offenders who are traveling and are identified by the center are compliant with their sex-offender registration requirements and have reported their intent to travel as mandated by law.

To date, the agency has processed more than 8,100 international travel notifications that were sent to the destination country.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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