The videos start with a Guy Fawkes mask, lightning strikes, and a disclaimer of sorts: “We apologize to the friends and family members of the Pedophile for bringing shame and embarrassment.”
But these videos are anything but apologetic.
San Diego’s “Creep Catching Unit” or “CC Unit,” as it’s known on social media, is a small group of 20 somethings on their own who hope to expose adults preying on children.
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The group confronts people who believe they’re meeting up with young teens, and posts videos of them online.
“I grew up in high school and I met girls who were victims of this kind of abuse,” explained the group’s leader, codenamed “Ghost.” NBC 7 agreed not to show Ghost’s face for his safety and liability.
The college student said the goal of starting the group was to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual predators, and advocate for harsher punishment for such criminals.
“So, I was like, I’m going to do something about it, I’m not just going to sit there and keep quiet,” Ghost explained.
The stings are essentially amateur versions of “To Catch a Predator” livestreamed on an iPhone primarily in the North County.
Ghost has posted decoy accounts for fake children — often 13 and 14-year-old girls — across multiple dating sites.
He said almost instantly people, usually men, reach out, and even after saying the decoy’s age, many still agree to meet in person.
The videos show the messages, and then cut to Ghost confronting the man at a public place.
“What’s up bro?” you can hear him say to one unsuspecting 25-year-old introducing himself in a post.
Ghost said he doesn’t ever get physical or aggressive with the people he confronts, though sometimes he chases the person down.
“I think of myself as an activist, not a vigilante. Because activists are people who try to make a change,” he said. And CC Unit has affected change.
On August 9, a local Marine discovered in a CC Unit video was found guilty at a general court martial of attempting a crime, according to I Marine Expeditionary Force.
That Marine received a dishonorable discharge from the Marine Corps and was sentenced to a reduction in grade from E-6 to E-1 and six months of confinement, according to 2nd Lt. Brian Tuthill with I MEF.
Tuthill confirmed there are other investigations currently ongoing in relation to CC Unit, but couldn’t provide any more specifics.
NBC 7 reached out to Naval Criminal Investigative Service for additional information but did not hear back by news time.
In San Marcos, a CC Unit video allegedly featured an employee of the CSU San Marcos Corporation, a nonprofit that works closely with CSUSM.
CC Unit notified the university of the video, according to Margaret Chantung, Associate Vice President of CSUSM Communications.
Bella Newburg, Executive Director of the CSUSM Corporation told NBC 7 she’s not at liberty to discuss the investigation into this claim, and could not confirm whether the employee still worked at the nonprofit.
Ghost said he’s confronted over 80 people in just over a year. But despite his work, law enforcement isn’t thrilled about his operation.
The San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force handles these types of crimes in the county. “The SDICAC Task force does not condone the use of civilians to conduct undercover investigations,” said San Diego Police Department Sgt. Dale Flamand, with the SDICAC.
“The Task Force vigorously investigates and prosecutes crimes against children with our partners at the San Diego District Attorney’s office and the United States Attorney’s office,” he continued in a statement, noting their group has arrested more than 35 people who would exploit children online in the past six months.
“We’re always appreciative of receiving valuable information that can help us solve crimes, hold criminals accountable and protect victims,” read a statement from the San Diego County District Attorney’s office.
But the DA made clear its stance on groups like CC Unit.
“San Diego is one of the safest urban counties in America and that is in large part due to the outstanding law enforcement in this region. We need to let them do their job with the trust and partnership of the community,” it continued.
But Ghost is not deterred.
“If they were doing it the way I’m doing it, I wouldn’t be doing it, cause they would be handling the problems and there would be no need for CC Unit,” he explained.
And Ghost promises he won’t disappear.
“I’m making a big impact obviously… until there’s change I’m not going to stop,” he told NBC 7.