GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — State authorities are telling a metro Grand Rapids man who confronts suspected sexual predators to stop what he’s doing, saying “vigilante activity will not be tolerated.”
“I strongly urge the public to leave this work to career professionals,” a Wednesday statement from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel read in part.
The Attorney General’s Office told 24 Hour News 8 the statement was prompted by new videos posted online by Zach Sweers of metro Grand Rapids. Sweers has a YouTube channel called Anxiety War in which he posts videos of himself baiting sexual predators online and then confronting them in real life.
The statement from the Attorney General’s Office and Michigan State Police says Sweers’ recent videos have “escalated and demonstrated reckless conduct.”
One video shows a confrontation with an alleged predator that turned into a physical fight over a set of keys. Another involved a man with a gun.
“It is reckless and dangerous for residents to take matters of law enforcement into their own hands. Not only does it put them directly in harm’s way, it actually hinders our ability to keep our kids safe and protect them from dangerous individuals,” Nessel’s statement read.
Authorities say they can handle finding and convicting predators. MSP said that when average citizens try to catch offenders, they jeopardize prosecution because the evidence is questionable and may not be admissible in court.
“Vigilantes also open themselves up to civil litigation and criminal charges when acting outside of what laws allow,” Detective 1st Lt. James Ellis, the commander of MSP’s Cyber Section, warned in a statement.
When 24 Hour News 8 talked to Sweers Wednesday afternoon, he declined to say whether the Attorney General’s Office had reached out to him directly. When asked by 24 Hour News 8 why he keeps going after predators, he replied, “Why not?”
When it was suggested to him that the people he’s chasing can’t be prosecuted, he replied, “I’m working on that.”
“I think the police don’t like competition,” he added.
In 2016, Sweers took several of his videos to Grand Rapids police. That led to criminal charges against seven men, all of whom ultimately either took plea deals or were found guilty, though none of them were ordered to spend more time behind bars at sentencing.
But local authorities also told Sweers at the time to stop what he was doing, saying it was dangerous. They said they would not prosecute any more cases he sent their way. On Wednesday, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker reiterated that stance.
“We will not ever take a case from him and prosecute it,” Becker said.
Sweers was also sued by two of the men in his videos. Those suits were ultimately settled.
If you notice any suspicious behavior online, can report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tip Line or by calling 1.800.843.5678. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also offers information about protecting your kids online.
—24 Hour News 8’s Heather Walker contributed to this report.