DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — A five-day sex sting operation orchestrated by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office last week resulted in the arrests of eight men for trying to have sex with underage boys and girls.According to a press release from WCSO, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force monitored smartphone applications and online ads to go "hunting for sexual offenders in our area" in an operation they dubbed "Paladin's Shield." "We are going to rid our community of these animals one by one," WCSO Sheriff Michael Adkinson said in the press release.The men arrested were James Nicholas Gibson, 27, of Pensacola; Trenton Patrick Hooks, 32, of Milton; Chad Dreyton Dugas, 18, of Fort Walton Beach; Keith Christopher Meade, 30, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Timothy Keith Lewis, 20, of Milton; Thomas Wayne Bannin, 36, of Fort Walton Beach; Richard Augustus Pate, 67, of Santa Rosa Beach; and Charles Martin Spence, 33, of Valparaiso.The men were booked separately into the Walton County Jail between Feb.28 and March 5 on an array of charges, including using a computer to seduce, solicit or lure a minor, using a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony and traveling to meet after using a computer to lure a minor.All of the men were arrested after they responded to online ads on Craigslist, the phone application Whisper or the dating application Grindr from undercover officers posing as underage children, according to Walton County Sheriff's Office arrest reports.Pate was the first person arrested in the sting, after he responded to a post on Grindr, a gay dating app, and began talking to a person he thought was a 14-year-old boy.According to authorities, he left his home on Walnut Street to engage in sexual activity with the person he thought was a boy, but instead was arrested by deputies on site.
Hooks was booked on four felonies after he responded to a Craigslist ad for a person who said she was a mother wanting someone to have sex with her 13-year-old daughter, according to his arrest report.
After learning the age of the girl, Hooks sent a picture of his genitals to the undercover officer.
He then left his home in Milton on March 4 to meet up with the young girl for sex, stopping on the way to buy lubrication.
He was apprehended by law enforcement when he arrived at the location.
Lewis was arrested March 3 after talking to someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl on Whisper, a social media app, and traveling from his home in Milton to meet with her.
Spence and Bannin both responded to Craigslist ads from a person they thought was a 14-year-old girl, but was really an undercover officer.