Crime

Police: Man’s online postings advance sex with children as religious rite

Police monitor transient they say advocated sex with children as a religious rite

Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons and Madison County Sheriff John Lakin talk about the arrest of James Lopes, who was charged with disturbing the peace. Police were monitoring Lopes after they said comments were made online about sex wit
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Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons and Madison County Sheriff John Lakin talk about the arrest of James Lopes, who was charged with disturbing the peace. Police were monitoring Lopes after they said comments were made online about sex wit

A man who unsettled residents in Collinsville and Edwardsville over the last two days has now been charged with disturbing the peace after contacts with at least three police departments.

James Lopes, 40, allegedly made contact with people at the Collinsville VFW on Saturday night and made some comments to a child that led bystanders to call the police. Initially called an attempted abduction on social media, Collinsville Police said no attempt to abduct the child took place. “Inappropriate behavior, but no abduction attempt,” said Major Brett Boerm of the Collinsville Police Department.

The latest on this story: Lopes now faces felonies, and the state is seeking finding of “sexually dangerous.”

Collinsville Police confirmed that they interviewed Lopes at the VFW and were monitoring his activities due to the nature of Lopes’ online postings — which they posted on the police department’s Facebook page — that detail a preference for sexual conduct with children.

“Mr. Lopes has not been charged with a crime and this agency is only sharing information that Mr. Lopes himself has posted for public consumption,” read a statement by Collinsville Police posted Sunday night. “We would encourage everyone to view this information and educate yourself about Mr. Lopes’ views. We warn you that some of Mr. Lopes’ views will be unsettling, however, they are within his right to free speech.”

Among other statements, Lopes’ social media posts and online video statements indicate a belief in sex with children, particularly young girls, as a religious rite and the wearing of the color green as an indication of sexual availability.

Madison County Sheriff John Lakin clarified that there are no reports thus far of Lopes inappropriately touching anyone in the metro-east.

On Sunday afternoon and evening, hundreds of posts by metro-east residents flooded social media, as residents posted on Facebook tracking Lopes’ movements, coordinating people out looking for him and occasionally taking pictures of him walking along roadways.

“Obviously we do not want anyone to put themselves in harm’s way,” Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said. “Posting the information about his whereabouts is important, but also allow law enforcement to do their jobs.”

Lakin said that given the immense amount of attention Lopes has received online, “we would be concerned about his safety if he did make bail.”

I find it incredibly disgusting, completely contrary to decent thinking, and not in line with the standards of our community. However, it is speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons

Edwardsville Police Chief Jay Keeven said his officers had been summoned to speak to Lopes Sunday afternoon after he had allegedly made comments unsettling some residents in Edwardsville, including a mother with a young daughter.

“He was making comments about religious beliefs and that her daughter could be ‘saved,’” Keeven said. “He was making people uncomfortable.”

Keeven said a crisis prevention team officer who is trained in psychological evaluation interviewed Lopes on Sunday, and they did not feel that he met the legal criteria for an involuntary commitment. CPT officers are trained in field assessments, though they are not psychologists, Keeven said.

“I know the conversations he’s having are odd, but we are not aware of anything he’s done that is illegal,” he said on Sunday.

Keeven said Lopes had indicated that he was traveling through the area and wanted a ride to the interstate, where he would be legally permitted to hitchhike on the on-ramp. Officers gave him a ride to a truck stop north of Edwardsville, he said.

Eventually Lopes was arrested outside Livingston by the Madison County Sheriff’s Department on a charge of disturbing the peace and trespassing, after he allegedly became verbally combative with a business owner in a parking lot. Lakin said once police arrived, Lopes was taken into custody without incident.

Keeven said residents did the right thing to alert police so that they could talk with Lopes, determine if he needed services or if he had done anything illegal. Lakin thanked the public for posting details that made it easier to follow Lopes’ movements.

Lopes is being held at the Madison County Jail. While his charges are misdemeanors, a judge has placed a temporary hold so that he can be evaluated for his mental stability.

“Based on information we have received, there is a reasonable belief that he may suffer from some sort of severe mental illness,” Gibbons said.

He said the determination of whether Lopes is mentally able to assist in his own defense and whether or not he is a danger to himself and others will have to be determined by the court.

“We appreciate (police officers) removing this individual from the community because so many people were alarmed at what he was doing,” he said.

Gibbons confirmed that Lopes was charged in 2012 in Oregon with attempting to sexually abuse an 8-year-old girl. Found to be incapable of assisting in his defense, the judge ordered that he be forced to take anti-psychotic medication to make him competent to stand trial.

Lopes’ case went all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court, in which the high court ruled that the trial judge had erred by ordering the non-voluntary medication. He had been in custody for more than a year and a half, and if convicted of the charges he might have received probation, according to news reports.

The case was then dismissed, but prosecutors asked for a civil commitment hearing, stating that they believed Lopes posed a serious risk to children, according to news reports. It was not immediately known what became of that proceeding. Lopes is not currently listed on any sexual offender registry.

As far as Lopes’ belief about children and sexuality, Gibbons said he had reviewed some of the online content Lopes had posted. “I find it incredibly disgusting, completely contrary to decent thinking, and not in line with the standards of our community,” Gibbons said. “However, it is speech that is protected by the First Amendment.”

Lakin and Gibbons said if anyone has had any contact with Lopes in the last few days, they are requested to call their local police department so law enforcement can get a full picture of Lopes’ activities in the metro-east.

“If you take the time to post it in social media, please call your local police agency and make a police report,” Lakin said. “We are only as good as the information we are given.”

Gibbons agreed, saying that social media posts had been helpful in their investigation thus far. “Active and engaged citizens are the best tools we have against crime,” he said.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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