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Our view: No vigilante justice

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The details are a little iffy. They’re likely to stay that way, since the story leaves no one involved looking particularly good.

According to Winston-Salem police, Dontaye Kentrell Wade, 25, told them that he was inside the Hanes Mall Boulevard Target store around 8:30 p.m. on June 28 when he was approached by three other men who assaulted him. One of the three attackers recorded the interaction with a phone, which Wade slapped away.

Wade then pulled a gun — which we assume he possessed legally — and fired one round, injuring one of the three attackers. They continued their assault, took his gun away and ran out of the store.

Wade went to the hospital and was released after being treated for minor injuries.

The three attackers — Jason Doane Chipps of Marion, 37; Jay Cameron Carnicom, 28; and Joshua Alvin Michael Mundy, 29, both of Freemont, Ohio — fled. The day after the attack, Carnicom showed up in an Ohio hospital with a gunshot wound to his leg. He was treated and released.

The three men are associated with a group called DAP (Dads Against Predators) on social media, police said.

“During the course of the investigation, it has been discovered the three males ‘lured’ the victim to the Target utilizing a social media app called Meet Up,” police said. “Once the victim arrived inside the Target, the three males approached the victim and confronted him as to why he was at the Target.”

That led to the scuffle and the shooting.

We don’t know Wade’s intent, if he had any aside from buying a new pair of socks — and likely never will. For all we know, he was on the hunt for illegal vigilantes.

The investigation is still ongoing, but no charges have been announced.

That’s not surprising. Charges for what? Being stupid?

Some reading this may think they know what’s going on — but internet sleuths are not officers of the court. They’re not trained in gathering evidence or in police methodology. There’s no guarantee that they can rightly interpret online communications.

This isn’t the first time that DAP has been in the news for trying to “sting” a supposed sexual predator. Following a similar incident in October 2020, Sandusky County, Ohio police officials claimed the group had left “law enforcement unable to criminally charge these individuals and prosecutors unable to prosecute” their victim, the Toledo Blade reported.

Prosecutors in the Cleveland, Ohio, area expressed similar concerns after a similar incident in April.

“It’s frustrating to see, you know, our efforts overshadowed by people who have no training, have no experience, are not even law enforcement officers, who believe that they’re protecting children,” Dave Frattare, the commander of Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force, told Cleveland’s WOIO.

“This notion that, you know, law enforcement isn’t doing anything with this information forgets the whole idea that this information in the first place is not valid. It’s not, you know, it’s not legal. It’s not going to hold up in court,” Frattare said.

In speaking about the incident at Target last week, Police Chief Catrina Thompson was generous: “The intentions of these groups may be honorable,” she said. But members of these groups don’t have the training of law enforcement officers. Their methods of investigation and gathering evidence typically don’t meet “the requirements of a successful prosecution of these cases,” Thompson said.

Further, their actions can endanger innocent bystanders — especially when firearms are involved. And with no formal training and too much enthusiasm, they could easily wind up harassing innocent people. No one is a predator simply because someone claims they’re a predator.

Essentially, such groups do more harm than good.

Sexual predation and the trafficking of minors is an important issue and there are proper, established channels through which one can help, like the credentialed organization Save the Children (not to be confused with the QAnon-tainted group Save Our Children).

Concerned parties can also help by reporting suspicions to the Winston-Salem Police Department at 336-773-7700, Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800 or in espanol at 336-728-3904.

Vigilante justice is not justice. Too often, it’s clumsy idiocy. When it comes to crime, it’s best to leave dealing with it to the pros, who deserve and have earned our respect and support.

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