Child exploitation sting leads to 20+ arrests

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – An undercover investigation has resulted in more than 20 people being arrested for electronic pornography and child exploitation.

"Operation Hidden Guardian" was a five-day proactive effort centered in Columbus. The operation took several months of planning.

The arrestees, ranging from age 22 to 55, traveled from areas around Columbus with the intent to meet a child for sex.

Some of the occupations of those arrested included forklift driver, mechanic, car wash attendant, military instructor, electrician, school custodian, research assistant and several were unemployed.

The goal of this operation was to arrest people who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. The operation also targeted those who are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor.

During this multi-day operation, investigators had more than 600 exchanges with subjects on various social media and internet platforms.

Several agencies participated in this operation including:

  • Athens-Clarke County Police Department
  • Floyd County Police Department Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office
  • Hall County Sheriff’s Office
  • Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center (GISAC)
  • Glynn County Police Department
  • LaGrange Police Department
  • Marietta Police Department
  • Tallapoosa Police Department
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • United States Secret Service

"The Columbus Police Department works daily to protect the safety of the citizens of our community, especially those that are unable to protect themselves," said Columbus Police Department's Chief Ricky Boren.

  • The following were arrested and charged in Muscogee County as part of “Operation Hidden Guardian:”
  • Austin Pierce, 26, of Columbus  - Car wash attendant
  • Reginald Crowell, 36, of Pittsview, AL – Unemployed
  • Jonathan Jenkins, 23, of Columbus – Treatment Operator
  • Brian Cocoran, 42, of Columbus – Unemployed
  • Ji Won Kim, 26, of Atlanta – Unemployed
  • Derrick Smalls, 38, of Phenix City, AL – Military instructor
  • Robert Moore, 31, of Ladonia, AL – Tech Specialist
  • Collis Eaton, 48, of Midway, AL – Electrician
  • Kenneth Jordan, 29, of Columbus – Research assistant
  • Edwin Nieves, 55, of Columbus – Customer Service worker
  • Ke Song, 24, of Auburn, AL – Student
  • Christopher McGowan, 32, of Mechanicsburg, PA – Industrial Mechanic
  • Jarrod Long, 27, of Columbus – City Maintenance Worker
  • Jimmy Cobb, 35, of Columbus – Mechanic
  • Uthemes Taylor, 30, of Columbus – Forklift Driver
  • Michael Everett, 22, of Columbus – Unemployed
  • Harold Bates, 35, of Selma, AL – Pipe welder
  • Dereck Weldon, 30, of Columbus – Unemployed
  • Gary Whitfield, 28, of Columbus – Unemployed
  • William Pruitt, 48, of Franklin, NC – School custodian
  • Eric Menefee, 50, of Opelika, AL - Unemployed

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