Two men who agreed to meet someone they thought was an 18-year-old man traveling with his parents are in Davis County Jail after finding the blank profile was actually a 13-year-old boy.
Police say that the 13-year-old downloaded the Grindr app onto his smart phone, posed as an 18-year-old and began interacting with men, including Dakota Freeman, 20, of Clearfield and David Ellis, 28. Grindr is an Android and iOS-based app that calls itself the “largest and most popular all-male location-based social network” with a requirement that users be 18 years of age. Most men using the service are seeking sexual relations with other men, though some are seeking longer-term relationships.
Freeman showed up at the Layton Holiday Inn Express hotel late Sunday, June 7, went through the lobby, and met the boy at the door of the room. The boy sneaked Freeman into the room where his parents were sleeping and into the bathroom at the front of the room. Police say the pair had sexual relations. The boy’s father woke up to noises in the bathroom and knocked on the door. The boy responded he was alright and the father returned to his bed. He awoke again, however, as Freeman left the room. The father took the boy’s cellphone and learned his son was contacting other men and called police.
By the time police arrived, Freeman was well away from the hotel, but Ellis approached the room, apparently looking for the boy, and was arrested.
A jail report shows that Ellis told police he and the boy exchanged nude photos using the app after the boy invited him to come to the hotel where he was was staying with his parents. Ellis reportedly asked the boy whether he was looking for sex or drugs and the boy answered sex.
Freeman was booked into Davis County Jail for investigation of sodomy upon a child based on the boy’s statements to police of what happened in the bathroom. He is being held on $100,000 bail.
A person is guilty of sodomy upon a child if he engages in any sexual act upon or with a child who is under the age of 14. It is a first degree felony punishable by a mandatory term of imprisonment of not less than 25 years.
Ellis was booked for investigation of sexual exploitation of a minor and dealing in materials harmful to a minor, though he never met the boy face-to-face. He is being held on $15,000 bail.
To be convicted of the offense of dealing materials harmful to a minor, a person must, “knowing or believing that a person is a minor, or having negligently failed to determine the proper age of a minor,” intentionally distribute or exhibit material harmful to minors. Each separate offense is a third degree felony punishable by a minimum mandatory fine of not less than $1,000, plus $10 for each article exhibited up to the maximum allowed by law; and incarceration, without suspension of sentence, for a term of not less than 14 days.
To be guilty of sexual exploitation of a minor, attorneys will have to prove that Ellis knowingly possessed child pornography. Sexual exploitation of a minor is a second degree felony, with each separate image being a separate offense, with a possible sentence of one to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 for each offense.
Neither man has a significant criminal record. Both, as of Tuesday night, remain in jail.
One of Freeman’s friends says this is not what he is like.
“I do not think Dakota would ever knowingly participate in anything like that,” said Troy Smiley. “I think that Dakota is a victim of a child’s insecurity and bad parenting. I don’t care how you spin it, how are you going to not notice your 13-year-old son bringing adults into a hotel room. Dakota is a great kid I don’t think he would ever do anything so depraved.”
A former co-worker of Ellis called him a very nice guy and always polite.
“I honestly can’t see David as someone who would knowingly set this up or participate in,” Jefferson Harrison said. “I have mixed feelings about the charges, but that being said, I feel neither party is totally innocent. I cant help but wonder though, where is the punishment for the individual who set up a false profile and lured adults into the situation? Does he get off with a slap on the wrist and his phone taken away? Doesn’t he need to be as severely punished? I truly feel bad that this situation happened, but it’s just one more reminder that we need to be very wary of hookup apps and the predicaments they can cause.”
Police said the case is still under investigation and there could be more arrests as they are looking at the boy’s cellphone to see who else might have met with or interacted with the boy.
Police also said the 13-year-old is still under investigation for his role, but has not been arrested and is with his parents. The police did not question why the parents did not have parental controls on the smart phone. Police could also not answer how a 13-year-old can allow someone into the hotel room without the parents’ knowledge, why Ellis was arrested, even though he never saw the kid to determine he was under age, nor what signs the parents missed that their 13-year-old would have the wherewithal to know there was a gay sex app, what its name was, how to use it and how to lure men to his room.
Grindr’s terms of service require anyone using the phone app be 18 years of age, older in jurisdictions where the age of consent is over 18.
1. AGE RESTRICTION. THE GRINDR SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE FOR INDIVIDUALS AGED 18 YEARS OR OLDER.
1. AGE RESTRICTED ACCESS. NO PERSONS UNDER THE AGE OF EIGHTEEN (18) YEARS (TWENTY-ONE (21) YEARS IN PLACES WHERE EIGHTEEN (18) YEARS IS NOT THE AGE OF MAJORITY) MAY DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY VIEW, POSSESS OR OTHERWISE USE THE GRINDR SERVICES.
2. AFFIRMATION OF CURRENT ADULT STATUS. YOU HEREBY AFFIRM AND WARRANT THAT YOU ARE CURRENTLY OVER THE AGE OF EIGHTEEN (18) YEARS (TWENTY-ONE (21) YEARS IN PLACES WHERE EIGHTEEN (18) YEARS IS NOT THE AGE OF MAJORITY) AND YOU ARE CAPABLE OF LAWFULLY ENTERING INTO AND PERFORMING ALL THE OBLIGATIONS SET FORTH IN THIS AGREEMENT.
Minors, however, can simply lie when asked for their age.
Grindr’s terms of service also restrict the use of the app for illegal purposes, like soliciting or selling drugs.
2. YOU UNDERSTAND AND HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOU WILL NOT ENGAGE IN THE PROHIBITED CONDUCT & USES LISTED BELOW:
5. use the Grindr Services for any illegal purpose, or in violation of any local, state, national, or international law…
A recent court case reaffirmed that online services aren’t liable for third party content. In that case, a minor represented to Grindr that he was over 18. Under a federal law, called Section 230, Grindr is not liable for the information it receives from a user, even if they are a minor, and users wanting to sue the service for problems they encounter, like arrest, will not prevail.
Another case from 2007 involving the website SexSearch dealt with a virtually identical situation. An underage user signed up for an account and represented she was over 18; a male met her offline for “consensual” sex; and then he was prosecuted for felony statutory rape. The court held that SexSearch was protected by Section 230 for the underage user’s misrepresentations about her age when the male sued.
Congress passed laws in the 90s that required sites to keep minors from using their services. The Communications Decency Act the Child Online Protection Act were both subsequently declared unconstitutional. Efforts at “age-gating,” such as requiring a credit card authorization to prove age of consent, have also fallen short as it is easy to get around the restrictions, such as using gift cards.
Grindr has a procedure to report under-aged users:
1. Favorite the user. He’ll appear in your main view even when he’s not nearby or online.
2. Describe his profile. Include his name or any details from the About section.
3. Take a screenshot. Our Review team can use this to quickly locate him.
4. Send your Grindr Account Email Address. This will help us find your profile.
Providing complete and detailed responses will help our Review team quickly take action. Click here to submit your information.