Anchorage officer posing as teen nabs indecency suspect

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2007

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage police officer posing online as a teenage girl led to the felony arrest of an Eagle River man in a monthlong cyber crimes investigation.

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David Lawrence Petersen, 24, is charged with distributing indecent material to minors.

Cyber crimes Detective Mark Thomas went online last month to make sure his computer was ready for a presentation in a presentation to a Citizen's Academy class about the dangers lurking for children on the Internet.

"I go in there with a 14-year-old female persona, don't say anything about sex, and inevitably someone contacts me," Thomas said.

His brief excursion produced Petersen's arrest.

Cyber investigators in Anchorage regularly prowl the Internet, looking for adults who would lure children into sexually charged encounters. Thomas worked in crimes against children before the cyber crimes unit was formed in August. The unit so far has been involved in an average of 10 investigations a month, according to Detective Sgt. Ron Tidler, who heads it.

But the detectives' search for predators doesn't usually produce results quite so quickly.

Seconds after Thomas signed on as a teenage girl in November, his young persona got a message with sexual innuendo.

The surfer exposed himself on a Web camera and masturbated during an exchange, according to court documents. The suspect showed his face several times, according to the affidavit.

"I didn't talk sex at all," Thomas said. "He was the only one talking about it."

The next day, Thomas had a subpoena sent to Yahoo to get the available subscriber information related to the screen name used by the Web surfer. The name listed on the account was "John Doe" in Eagle River, but the information Thomas received also included an alternate e-mail address. Yahoo gave police protocol addresses that the person used to log in as well.

In late November, Thomas logged into Yahoo again, trying to find more information about the user. He found a couple of matches pointing toward Petersen and, eventually, a physical address, according to the affidavit. He also had a brief chat with the same surfer, who was not using the screen name John Doe.

Thomas went to Petersen's home, where officers identified him later that day using the Web camera images, according to the affidavit. Petersen was taken into custody Dec. 6.

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