In the wake of the arrest of 33-year-old Nutley Volunteer Fire Chief Henry Meola for luring after he admitted on camera to members of sexual predator watchdog group OBL Nation that he traveled to North Bergen for sex with a 14-year-old boy, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office is warning against taking such action. The Prosecutor’s Office did not name OBL Nation, but described a number of occurrences of similar activity to this recent incident in the county, which they took issue with.
“Over the last few months, Bergen County has experienced several instances of a private citizen using the Internet to identify individuals who are attempting to lure minors into sexual activity and arranging for the arrest by law enforcement of these targeted individuals,” the Prosecutor’s Office said in a Dec. 22 statement. “The scenarios and arrests are then publicized on YouTube. The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and Bergen County law enforcement do not condone this vigilante activity.”
According to the BCPO, the sting operations by these civilians are dangerous to all involved. Not only that, the Prosecutor’s Office said that they are legally dubious.
“Bergen County law enforcement strongly discourages this activity, which holds the potential for violence and injury to the individuals involved as well as innocent bystanders,” the BCPO said. “It also jeopardizes the due process rights of potential targets, puts private citizens in danger, and risks involving law enforcement in illegal activity. Private citizens are advised not to involve themselves in these activities.”
BCPO said that anyone involved in the “vigilante activity” will likely be a witness in court. Not only that, they may be legally liable depending on their activities during any incidents, the Prosecutor’s Office said, further discouraging the practice.
“Bergen County law enforcement will file appropriate charges against individuals who violate the criminal law when pursuing these activities,” the BCPO said. “Private citizens who lure potential defendants will be called to testify as witnesses throughout court proceedings as this practice ensures they are witnesses to an alleged crime. Also note that individuals who engage in this vigilante activity may also be subject to civil liability.”
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