A Metro East group that posts photos, videos and other information on social media to expose and shame suspected pedophiles is being sued for defamation by a Randolph County man.
Adrian Collins filed a lawsuit in Randolph County Circuit Court last month against KTS Predator Hunters and its founder, Kyle Swanson, of Belleville.
In his complaint, Collins maintains that Swanson posted a Facebook conversation between Collins and someone identified as "Jordan Lane" in June on the KTS Facebook page and falsely called it a "sex trafficking situation," insinuated that Collins was "grooming" a 14-year-old girl and referred to Collins as "very creepy."
"Plaintiff did not inquire as to (Jordan Lane's) age at the time of his conversation with her," according to the complaint, which states that Collins has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
The complaint also states that Collins received threats online after KTS posted his conversation, lost his job as a security guard at Red Bud Regional Hospital and hasn't been able to find other employment.
The lawsuit asks for in excess of $50,000 for compensatory damages and in excess of $50,000 for punitive damages.
"Defendants maliciously and intentionally caused the publication of the false statements to a Facebook page with thousands of followers for the purpose of harming the Plaintiff's good reputation," the complaint states.
Collins is represented by Belleville attorney Megan Gilbreth, who filed the lawsuit on Sept. 4. Swanson later motioned for dismissal. An attorney wasn't listed in his motion.
"Plaintiff was well aware of the age of the decoy," it stated.
Randolph County Circuit Court Judge Richard Brown denied the motion to dismiss the lawsuit on Sept. 25. Swanson has 30 days from that date to answer the complaint.
KTS announced the lawsuit Wednesday on the Facebook page of its non-profit organization, KTS: Stop Sexual Assault. The group is asking its more than 47,000 followers to donate money for legal fees.
"Wondering why we haven't been doing live meet ups lately?" the post asked, using the term "meet ups" to describe videotaped confrontations with suspected pedophiles that are sometimes streamed live on Facebook or YouTube.
"We are currently in a head to head battle with a former person we exposed and going to court with them. They're attempting to sue ourselves and our owner personally. Our lawyers fees have added up and we're looking for help. The down payment alone is $7,500.
"Please take a second share this. We can't continue operations till this is over and may shut down KTS completely if we don't raise enough money for an attorney."
Group leaders didn't return a call seeking comment.
Predator-hunting groups can be found all over the country. Some were inspired by "To Catch a Predator," a reality TV series that was part of NBC's "Dateline" from 2004 to 2007. Police were involved in most of its episodes.
KTS members communicate with suspected pedophiles on the internet and sometimes lure the adult men to locations in Illinois and Missouri under the pretense that they are minor girls willing to meet and presumably have sex.
Then KTS members show up at the locations, confront suspects, videotape confrontations and post videos on Facebook or YouTube. The idea is to shame and perhaps scare the adult men into stopping their activities, as KTS has no legal authority to arrest them.
As of Thursday afternoon, nearly 150 followers had offered support on the KTS: Stop Sexual Assault Facebook page in response to news of the Randolph County lawsuit. Some suggested legal strategies or reported that they had donated money. Others called for protests at Swanson's court appearances.
"With the mission y'all have I would think you should be able to find an amazing lawyer pro bono because who doesn't want these monsters called out?" one commenter wrote.
KTS made headlines last month, when one of its sting-like operations involving a Missouri man took place in the parking lot of Webster Elementary School in Collinsville after school hours.
Brad Skertich, superintendent of Collinsville Unit School District 10, sent an email to parents and guardians of students, assuring them that no actual children were involved.
"This group had no involvement, agreement or communication with the school district or local law enforcement before, during or after this occurred," he told the BND. "They were completely on their own."
In his letter, Skertich called the incident "alarming" and noted that the district had contacted Collinsville Police Department to help it determine how to move forward in light of the Missouri man's actions and the KTS group's decision to lure a "potentially dangerous adult" onto school property.
Skertich also urged parental guidance.
"The situation serves as a harsh reminder that we must regularly monitor our children's internet and phone usage, discuss safe and unsafe practices, and have regular conversations about who they communicate with throughout the day," he wrote.
Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons has reportedly met with KTS members and asked them to start telling police about contacts with suspected pedophiles instead of taking matters into their own hands so proper investigations could lead to criminal charges.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2019 that a handful of men had been arrested after being confronted by KTS Predator Hunters or members of a St. Louis group called Truckers Against Predators, but most of those cases were dropped.