Local man uses dating app to perform sting operations
By Ariel Sanchez
Meet the man who volunteers to catch men who target minors using the app, Grindr.
Steve Bowers, husband and father of two young children, is the local version of Chris Hansen of NBC’s program “To Catch a Predator” in Erath County. He just started his version of a sting operation a couple of weeks ago.
“I came across these predator poachers from Houston. They were younger guys and I saw what they were doing. It kind of rubbed me the wrong way because they were more immature about it…you have to do [the stings] seriously,” Bowers said. “I’ve got a three-year-old and a one-year-old and it got me thinking. If at least one person or multiple people start to bring awareness to this and start calling these people out, it will make a difference. Why not me? If our law enforcement can’t, then I’m going to set up a Grindr to catch them.”
Bowers was at work when he decided to make an account. He finally downloaded the app and within an hour he received a message from a man in Comanche.
Bowers uses his own personal Facebook account to expose the people he catches. He screenshots the messages, publicizes their names and posts a video taken by his phone of the confrontation with them.
The first post he made exposing someone was on Jan. 21, 2020. The man drove from Comanche to Hico. In the screenshot messages between them, Bowers makes it clear that his alias, Toby, is 15-years-old. Little did the man know that it was 33-year-old Bowers.
In the video, Bowers approaches the man who is parked in his car waiting for a 15-year-old and asked the man why he thought it was appropriate to meet alone with a minor.
This video alone has 33.7K views and 132 comments and counting.
“Wow, yeah, he’s from Comanche. I’ve seen him before, that’s sick. Thanks for posting this. Now everyone here will see this and know,” Facebook user Tanya Moreno commented.
A few days later Bowers received a message from two men in Stephenville wanting to meet up.
For the first encounter, he had a decoy present in order for the alleged sexual predators to feel comfortable. The decoy was a 20-year-old male who gave his consent to pretend to be “Toby.”
The meeting took place outside Cinemark Cinema 6 in Stephenville.
That same night, the second person the duo made contact with wanted to meet the decoy at his apartment. In the conversation between the man and “Toby,” the man makes it clear that he is afraid they will get caught. He’s also afraid of the repercussions he will face about going to jail but he still met with “Toby.”
“Everyone please be aware of this issue. We have to start doing a better job of protecting our children. If we all do what we can, this problem will be a smaller one,” Bowers said.
Bowers has other videos on his Facebook depicting the confrontations he has had with other men from Comanche, Stephenville, Dublin, and Granbury.
All the people that Bowers has helped catch knowingly came to meet up with a 15-year-old boy with the intent of sexual activity, shown in the screenshots posted by Bowers.
Texas code’s Section 33.021(c), talks about the online solicitation of a minor. A person who commits this offense is knowingly soliciting a minor to meet with the intention of getting the minor to engage in sexual activity while using the Internet or electronic messaging service. Under Section 33.021(b), online solicitation of a minor is a third-degree felony with possible punishments including paying a fine for up to $10,000 and a state prison sentence for 2-10 years.
As far as legalities go for Bowers, he says he follows these rules.
He can’t obstruct the men he exposes or prevent them from leaving if they want to. He can’t threaten them directly, antagonize or bait them. The decoy must be at least 18-years-old and consent to have their photo used. Another rule is that he can’t send an explicit image first.
These are the rules Bowers follows. He also takes other precautions in order to make himself safe while confronting these people. Bowers now takes at least one other person with him and the decoy. This makes the alleged sexual predator feel as if they will not hurt them and makes sure to see their hands at all times.
Bowers says that he turns over all of his evidence to a department at the sheriff’s office, and will not specify which department.
“All I feel like I can say is that I can only assume it’s being investigated. I’d hope they are so I can sleep better at night. I know some people don’t like it, but it’s important,” Bowers said.
He has had many people reach out to him asking what they can do to help. Bowers is trying to find a place where people can gather and discuss the issue, bring awareness, prevent this from happening in the area and share stories.
For more information, you can contact Bowers through his Facebook @Steven Bowers.