Pro Liberis, "for the children." That was the title of a press conference on Friday, December 20 in the Missoula City Council chambers announcing the results of a multi-agency child sex internet sting operation that resulted in the arrests of seven suspects in western Montana.

The operation, conducted under the auspices of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, took place from December 17 through 19, when area detectives placed online invitations on sites such as Craig's List and Back Page, leading suspects to believe that they would be communicating with a 12 year-old child.

Captain Mike Colyer with the Missoula Police Department described the sting operation that included assistance from the Missoula County Sheriff's Office, the Missoula Police Department, the Missoula County Attorney and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

"After months of preparation, detectives from several agencies posted ads on social media sites referencing children's activities," Colyer said. "Many individuals responded to the ads and initiated a proposal of sex and suggested personal meets. When the individuals arrived at a predetermined location to engage in sexual conduct with someone they thought was a child, they were taken into custody."

Colyer was careful to emphasize that no children were ever involved in the operation.

Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks said all seven individuals appeared in Missoula Justice Court via video from the Missoula County Jail on Friday afternoon.

"The seven individuals who were arrested in this operation have been charged with sexual abuse of children, for traveling to meet a person they believed to be a child to engage in sexual activity," Marks said. "There is ongoing investigation in this case and certainly there is the possibility that more charges will be filed against these individuals once the computer forensic work is completed."

The charge of sexual abuse of children carries a maximum sentence of life or 100 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Missoula County Sheriff's Office Captain Mike Dominick made a promise to anyone who would attempt to engage in this type of activity in western Montana.

"I'd like to speak with the men who believe it's alright to victimize children," Dominick said. "I'd like to promise you three things. We will find you, we will arrest you, and we will lock you away for as long as the law will allow."

The seven individuals who appeared in justice court on Friday included Chad Briggs, Matthew Keith, Christopher Cooper, Jenna E. Davis, Neal Gray, Justin Walker and James Myers. Bail for each ranged from $25,000 for Keith, whose parents were in the courtroom and told Judge Karen Orzech that they would keep him at their home and personally vouch for his future court appearances, to $75,000 for Neal Gray, whom the judge pointed out was, in her view, the most dangerous of all the suspects.

According to court documents, Gray indicated a desire to have sex with the child, and when he was arrested, had in his possession rope, handcuffs, lube, nipple clamps, a whip, clothespins and latex gloves.

In addition, court documents state that Jenna Davis and Chad Briggs indicated that both of them would actively participate in assisting the 12 year-old child in losing her virginity.

All the cases are felonies, and will be prosecuted in Missoula District Court.

At the press conference, Colyer said similar sting operations have taken place in other communities throughout Montana. He said the operation in Missoula was considered to be a success, however, the officers expressed a fear that more such suspects were waiting to victimize children online.

Detective Chris Shermer had advice for parents.

"Be diligent when your children are online," Shermer said. "We don't allow our children to go run on the highway, so we should be paying just as much attention when our children are on the information superhighway."

Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Press Conference


More From Newstalk KGVO 1290 AM & 98.3 FM