ATLANTIC CITY — Through the lens of the camera Justin Perry has strapped to his chest, viewers follow him down the empty Boardwalk on a night in mid-July as he finds the man he’s been looking for sitting alone on a bench.
“What are you doing here?” Perry asks in the video, confronting the man with the flash of his iPhone, which is also recording the interaction. “Who are you here to meet?”
The man, 53-year-old Scott Hart, was arrested earlier this month on child luring charges, and police have credited Perry’s actions as a concerned citizen for assisting in their investigation.
Perry, 32, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, posed as a 15-year-old girl on the dating app Skout, where he said Hart reached out to him.
“I told him I was 15 right from the start,” Perry said. “He just continued the conversation.”
Police said Hart planned to meet the “girl” on the Boardwalk to allegedly engage in sexual activity.
“You said some pretty graphic stuff to this girl,” Perry says to Hart in the video.
Hart, who Perry says in the video doesn’t seem “all there,” originally denies the interaction, but then admits he was speaking with a 15-year-old.
Hart lives in the Venice Park section of the city and is a registered Tier 2 sex offender. He was convicted in 1991 for sexually assaulting a boy and a girl in Union County, according to the state’s online sex offender registry.
The database currently shows 167 registered sex offenders in Atlantic City.
According to public defender Alex Settle, Hart appeared at a detention hearing Tuesday, where he was released before his next hearing in September under a number of conditions that include reporting to pretrial services and a curfew between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Of the approximately 24 meetings Perry has arranged with potential online predators in the tri-state area, this is the third that has led to an arrest. One was made in his hometown of Lancaster and the other in Ocean City, Maryland.
It’s something Perry, who has no formal law-enforcement training, has been doing for about a year and a half. He started his own Facebook page dedicated to it and goes as Mr. 17540, the ZIP code of his hometown.
“If it wasn’t me, it would be a real 15-year-old girl,” Perry said. “No matter how anybody looks at it, these are men that are going out of their way to meet a 15-year-old child. I’m letting everybody know who these people are, and police can do whatever they want to do about it.”
Atlantic City police reached out to Perry days after he posted the video. He said he handed over copies of the videos and sent them screenshots of his and Hart’s conversations.
He also returned to the city to give a statement even though past interactions with law-enforcement officers who disagreed with Perry’s approach made him nervous to meet with police.
But he said he had a positive experience working with Atlantic City police, saying he appreciated the way they treated him.
“I was kind of dumbfounded by it,” he said. “I’m just some guy going out here catching these predators, and these are detectives telling me, ‘Hey you’re doing a good job. Be careful what you’re doing, but you’re doing a great job.’”
“The concerned citizen was extremely helpful throughout the investigation.” police Sgt. Kevin Fair said.
Perry said he doesn’t have plans to stop anytime soon.
“A lot of people ask me all the time, ‘Are you scared? Are you nervous?’ You just don’t think about it,” he said. “I’m there for one mission: to expose these predators. It’s go time, and that’s the end result.”
When he’s not at home serving as the primary caregiver for his father, who has Alzheimer’s, Perry sets up the fake profiles with different locations.
Armed with his iPhone, GoPro and sometimes another camera person, his main goal is to expose predators online. He doesn’t always expect the police to step in like they did in Atlantic City.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “It makes everything I do worth it that an arrest came of something that I did.”