In June of 2022, Statesboro Police Department arrested Justin Tad Roberson, 42, of Swainsboro. The arrest came as part of a sting operation aimed to catch child predators using the internet to solicit minors for indecent purposes. Roberson was initially charged with one count of criminal intent to entice a child for indecent purposes, one count of criminal attempt to commit sexual battery, one count of use of computer services to entice a child to commit an illegal act, one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and one count of obstruction. There were two other individuals arrested as part of this operation, and their charges were nearly identical.
All of the details of the sting operation are not available. The press was told that releasing too much information about the strategy of the operation could hinder future investigative efforts. What we do know is that Roberson spoke via electronic message with an investigator posing as “15-year-old girl” referred to as “Bailey” between June 21st and June 23rd. We are unaware of the online platform that was used to connect the investigators with Roberson. The purpose of “Bailey” was to solicit indecent comments from the individuals showing intent to commit illegal acts and to convince the individuals to meet in person. Roberson participated in the communication, and met at the agreed upon location, the Chick-fil-A parking lot in Statesboro. Upon meeting with “Bailey” in person, Roberson said words to the effect of “lift your shirt to prove you aren’t a cop”. This statement was enough, in investigators minds at the time, to arrest Roberson for criminal attempt to commit sexual battery and obstruction.
Documents submitted to the court vary. One in particular has been called into question, as it paints Roberson in a much different light than others. This statement by officials accuses Roberson of much worse criminal activity. Due to the flagrant and slanderous claims of the statement, it was dismissed.
Roberson is known to the community as a youth pastor and a girl’s youth softball coach.
As part of the investigation, adults and children associated with his church and softball team were interviewed. During this phase of the investigation, nothing of concern was found. This ended the external side of the investigation.
Roberson was able to negotiate a plea in the case. As part of the plea, prosecutors elected to invoke nolle prosequi on the charges of criminal attempt to commit a felony, child molestation. Nolle prosequi is a motion that can be used when a case is unfavorable for the prosecution, and it prevents prosecutors from having a loophole to potentially restart a criminal trial for their favor. This motion, commonly used in plea deals, is not the same as a not guilty verdict by jury. Essentially, it works instead to remove criminal charges - making it as if the charges were never filed. Roberson pleaded guilty to the charges of use of computer services to entice a child to commit an illegal act and possession of a knife/firearm during the commission or attempt of certain crimes. He was sentenced to 15 years of probation with 3 to serve on the computer solicitation charge and 5 years of probation on the possession of a knife/firearm
A guilty plea on a computer solicitation charge requires Roberson to register as a sex offender. In Roberson’s case, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows he is not a violent predator. Due to this, the judge ruled that he will have an exemption to his registration, meaning he will have no restrictions involving his biological children.
Sting operations, particularly cybersex sting operations, have been a target of scrutiny since their inception. While some believe these operations serve to catch potential criminals before someone falls victim to their intentions, others believe these operations hover, or even cross, the line of entrapment. Entrapment is defined as causing a, normally innocent, person to commit a crime that they would not have committed without the direct influence of those investigating. All sting operations are costly endeavors, in both time and money. Those arrested as part of a sting operation garner higher charges to justify the operation, and those charges are reexamined in court, usually being dropped or lowered.