Fourteen individuals, including Keith Andrew Walters, dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics at VSU, have been arrested in a sting operation targeting online child predators and child traffickers.
Walters, 44, was charged with sexual exploitation of children after local and state agencies said he tried to meet someone for sex that he believed was a minor.
Walters has been placed on immediate administrative leave “pending the outcome of internal and law enforcement investigations into these very disturbing allegations,” a spokeswoman said in a statement via email Feb 10. “VSU remains committed to assisting law enforcement’s investigation in any way.”
According to a press release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the 4-day operation from Feb. 6 to Feb. 9 dubbed “Operation Broken Arrow” was coordinated by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and others.
Nine of the 14 individuals were charged under the human trafficking statute, meaning the suspect intended to pay a child for sexual services, Lindsay Marchant, an assistant special agent for the GBI, said.
Walters was not one of the nine charged under that statute, authorities said.
Marchant also stated the suspects communicated to minors via “widely-utilized social media platforms.”
According to the Valdosta Daily Times, Richard Carvajal, president of VSU, and Robert Smith, provost of VSU, met with the faculty Monday afternoon in the Converse Hall Auditorium to answer questions about Walters’ arrest and the future.
Carvajal stripped Walters of his title as dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at VSU, eliminating the rest of his salary.
Walters was hired in the summer of 2019. He previously worked at Northern Kentucky University where he served as chair of the chemistry department for seven years.
Walters has been placed on immediate administrative leave, VSU announced Feb. 10. Dr. James LaPlant, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, will serve as the interim Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, confirmed by Robert Smith, VSU Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs.
Dr. LaPlant will serve both roles until someone is hired full-time in Walters’ absence.
The sting operation was a proactive effort centered in Valdosta. According to a GBI press release, investigators say the arrestees, ranging in age from 24 to 57, traveled from areas around South Georgia with the intent to meet a child for sexual acts.
Each suspect arrested during the operation was believed to be going to a location to meet with a child for sexual favors. Nineteen mobile devices and several additional electronic devices were seized as evidence during the operation.
The goal of “Operation Broken Arrow” was to arrest individuals who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex.
“The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office is proud to partner with the GBI and other federal, state, and local area law enforcement agencies in these continuing efforts to identify and apprehend those who prey on our most vulnerable victims,” Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk said. “Thanks to this coordinated four-day effort, multiple predators have been removed from our streets and are no longer free to victimize our children.”
Debbie Garner, GBI Special Agent in Charge, and Commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, added that the operations continue to keep children safe from predators.
“The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office is one of our most active member agencies,” Garner said. “We appreciate their daily efforts to combat child exploitation. This type of cooperation and collaboration is invaluable in the effort to keep our children safe from predators who seek to harm them. This successful operation was a true partnership between all the agencies involved. We will continue to aggressively work together to protect our children.”
Walters has been removed from all VSU related content.
Written by Prince Robinson Jr., Managing Editor.