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Whatcom jail guard fired after arrest in child sex sting

Mount Vernon Police Lt. Christopher E. Cammock, left, and Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt, right, discuss an investigation into a Skagit County child exploitation ring during a news conference Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014 at the county commissioners' office in Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon Police Lt. Christopher E. Cammock, left, and Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt, right, discuss an investigation into a Skagit County child exploitation ring during a news conference Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014 at the county commissioners' office in Mount Vernon. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

A former Whatcom County corrections officer has been charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor after being snared in a Skagit County investigation into adults seeking minors on the Internet for sexual exploitation.

Kyle O’Connor, 28, of Mount Vernon faces Skagit County charges of commercial sexual abuse of a minor, communication with a minor for immoral purposes, and third-degree attempted rape of a child.

O’Connor was in training to become a corrections officer for the Whatcom County Jail when he was arrested on Sept. 16. He was fired Sept. 17, said Wendy Jones, chief of the jail.

Skagit County police arrested five other men within two weeks in September in a sting operation in which detectives created three online personas and posted suggestive ads online to identify child predators.

One persona detectives used was a 14-year-old girl who sold herself as a prostitute, another was a 9-year-old girl, and the third was a 13-year-old boy struggling with his sexual identity. All of these personas were based on at-risk-youth who could be found in any community, Mount Vernon Police Lt. Christopher Cammock said in a press conference Thursday, Oct. 9.

A Navy sailor also was arrested and faces similar charges.

Detectives received more than 140 solicitations in the first two weeks after posting the suggestive ads online, yet the majority of solicitors walked away when they learned the age of the persona, Cammock said.

Online conversations between O’Connor and the undercover detective began Sept. 10, Cammock said. O’Connor agreed to meet the 14-year-old girl on Sept. 16 at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, believing she would be willing to commit prostitution. Police were waiting for O’Connor at the college and arrested him.

“In every single case where a solicitor contacted one of our personas online, there was a clear demarcation point where that individual knew that they were communicating with either a 14-year-old or a 9-year-old,” Cammock said.

O’Connor was booked into Skagit County jail and remained there Thursday. Police found $160 in cash, condoms and a handgun in O’Connor’s car, according to court documents.

O’Connor claimed that when he found out the online profile belonged to a 14-year-old, he was going to get her help. He also told police that he had been in the U.S. Marine Corps and had received training in human trafficking, yet he admitted that seeking help for the 14-year-old girl was contrary to the training he had received, court documents say.

Cammock said investigators have no reason to believe his off-duty conduct carried over to his role as a corrections deputy.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office was notified on the day of his arrest and terminated his employment the following day.

Jones, chief of the Whatcom jail, said O’Connor underwent a months-long hiring process that included a psychological examination, a background check and a polygraph examination. She said only 3 to 6 percent of people make it through the hiring process.

“If we had found anything at all, he would have never made it into the agency,” Jones said.

O’Connor had been hired eight months prior to his arrest, and his probationary period would have ended after 15 months, Jones said.

Investigators are still compiling evidence in at least six more cases where suspects communicated inappropriately with children but did not attempt to contact them, said Skagit County prosecutor Rich Weyrich.

Weyrich said in the Thursday press conference that the operation was set up in part to show that online sexual exploitation is not just a big-city problem, but an “everywhere problem.” He also said it sends a message that Skagit County is “not going to stand for people trying to exploit our children.”

Of the 140 solicitors to the online ads, 10 percent were willing to pursue some type of sexual immoral or illegal activities with children, Weyrich said.

“What we wanted to show is that there is a problem here, and by extension, there is a problem everywhere,” Weyrich said. “I think we have shown that.”

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