Police Warn: Catching A Predator Is Dangerous

Rashawn Bass is being credited with helping to catch an alleged child predator, Philip Stone, using chats and a video sting. (Photos courtesy YouTube)

  TOMS RIVER – An alleged child predator is behind bars and no one got hurt. That’s two wins, as far as Rashawn Bass is concerned. Police are warning him not to confront child predators again after he did so on camera.

  “At the end of the day, I prevented someone from getting hurt,” Bass said.

  Phillip Stone, 33, of Lacey had allegedly been communicating over a dating app with what he believed was a 14-year-old girl. When he went to meet her in public, the girl turned out to be Bass, recording the encounter for a video about online sexual predators. After police saw the video, they charged Stone with luring and attempted sexual assault. He is considered innocent until proven guilty.

  Bass, who goes by the stage name Minnow, said he’s been doing this for about four months. The reactions from people have been a mixed bag. Most people give him positive feedback but some people say he’s being stupid for putting himself in danger.

  “At first, I was just curious about how many (predators) were in my area,” he said. He said he’s found at least 35 people all over the country who might be predators. When he does find them, he usually sends the information to the U.S. Marshall’s Office. However, since this one was local, he decided to try to meet him.

  “I never set out to do this face to face. Something just told me to drive there and see why Phillip thinks this is okay,” he said. “I want to see if I can understand their thought process. I want to see how they got from A to Z. How do they rationalize?”

  In the video, Bass notes that he’s interviewing Stone for a psychological study. He’s not a student; it’s more of a curiosity. He was taken aback by Stone’s honesty.

  Stone said that his mother passed away last year, and ever since then “I’ve done nothing but eat, do drugs, and be a philanderer.” Stone admitted, he has some tendencies that are very wrong.

  Bass said he chose a populated place just in case things became dangerous. In this case, it was a restaurant.

  “My safety is important but I value my family’s safety more,” he said, weighing his own safety versus those of children, noting that maybe he was being “a little too courageous.”

  “The minute I saw him I could tell he was terrified,” Bass said, adding that he was as well. “My heart was beating a million times a minute.”

  During the interview, he kept calm, and as non-confrontational as possible. He tried not to press him on anything.

  Afterward, he told reporters that no one else was doing this, this suspect wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and he was proud that he was able to get a potential child molester off the streets.

  There was a recent case where a radio station reported on a sting catching child molesters in Toms River. The report came out while the sting was currently happening, and it scared away several people who could have been arrested, police said at the time.

  Currently, his relationship with police is in a good place. He had gone to the prosecutor’s office and gave a statement. “They told me not to do it again.”

  There are so many different agencies doing investigations at any given time, that a member of the public could blunder into the middle of a case and ruin it, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said.

  “It could have jeopardized an investigation,” he said, “but it didn’t in this case.”

  When officers saw that video, the first thing they had to do was authenticate it, he said. They had to make sure that it wasn’t a skit for YouTube. Since YouTube is a place for amateur filmmakers to make money and get exposure, he was worried that it was promoting something.

  Billhimer said that if Bass had contacted the police before he went to meet with Stone, officers would have been able to ensure his safety.

  On Dateline’s “To Catch A Predator,” when the host would confront a suspect, there was always police involved.

  “He seems to be mirroring what Chris Hansen did on Dateline but without law enforcement,” he said.

  “We can all agree the end result was good, but I’d be remiss in my duty as prosecutor” if he didn’t warn people not to try this at home, he said.

  “I’m happy, obviously, we got a child predator off the streets. But I don’t want people to get into business for themselves confronting someone who could be dangerous,” Billhimer said.

  Billhimer gave the warning however, that when being confronted, the predator has nothing to lose and might lash out and become violent. “It all isn’t going to go that easy.”

  “Investigations into alleged criminal activity must be conducted by trained law enforcement officials – with the assistance of members of the public when and where appropriate,” Billhimer said. “Private citizens who take it upon themselves to investigate what they believe to be criminal conduct may compromise the potential investigation.”

  The prosecutor added, “they can also find themselves in a very dangerous situation. Leave criminal investigations to the professionals. We are very fortunate that no one got hurt and we were able to take a child predator off the street.”

The Video

  Bass’ channel is called “Minority Vs. Predator.” It proposes to show just how easy it is for children to fall victim to sexual predators they might find online.

  In the video, the host struck up a text conversation on the app called Skout where he posed as a 14-year-old girl. He then agreed to meet with Stone at the Five Guys restaurant in Toms River, and then go to a hotel.

  The video, which contains coarse language and graphic conversation, details the texts between “Steve (which is what Stone called himself)” and “the 14-year-old girl.” Upon arriving, the video host records a conversation with “Steve” on his phone.

  Although Stone’s name was not said in the video, some people on social media deciphered his identity. This resulted in them attacking him online, giving his employment negative reviews, and suspecting that he will either be a victim of a vigilante or suicide by the end of this. Instead, he was arrested. The office where he allegedly worked released a statement that he had been fired.

Advice To Parents

  “You have to be vigilant,” Billhimer said to parents. Children have so many options for social media that it’s hard to stay on top of them all but you must.

  Specifically, this app, Skout, is a dating app.

  “There’s no reason for a child to be on that,” he said.

  Bass urged parents to have open and honest communication with their children. Start when they are very young, letting them know they can tell you anything. That way, when they grow up and start having more serious problems, they will trust you.

  “Don’t get mad. Be a good listener,” he said.

  Talking about sexual assault is hard, he said. After watching the video, some people confided in him about times they were assaulted. It’s helped some of those people to be able to express themselves about some feelings that they’ve had to bury. He asks them how they’re coping.

  His message to victims is: “You matter.” If possible, they should talk about their experiences with someone they can trust. It’s not fair that they have to live with this in silence while the guilty party goes on with their lives.

  The predators you have to watch out for are the ones who know how to talk to kids, he said. But as to how to pick a child molester out of a line of faces? It’s not so easy. He’ll go on the app, pretending to be a teen girl and get contacts from maybe 15 adult men. Fourteen of them might look suspicious and turn out to be harmless. The one that looks harmless turns out to be dangerous.

Philip Stone (Photo courtesy Ocean County Jail)

  Predators come from any way of life and any background, he warned.

  Since that video aired, some people have come forward saying they were suspicious of Stone before this, Bass said. “This individual’s been doing this for years and no one spoke out.” He urged people to step forward if they suspect something.

  There are other victims here. Stone’s arrest didn’t happen in a vacuum. There is collateral damage that has to be dealt with. He was married.

  Bass used this article to send a message to his wife, hoping that she will see it: “I’m sorry for turning your lives upside down. I do sympathize with his wife and the rest of his family.”