Jul. 26—ROCHESTER — A Rochester man on a mission to expose child predators has been arrested following a botched sting operation at a Rochester apartment complex July 23, 2023.
Chase Tanner Johnston rose to prominence last year with a series of confrontational videos in which he, or one of his crew, would pose online as a child in order to lure men to a meeting that would then be filmed and posted to social media. His channel was taken down shortly after the Post Bulletin’s original story about
Johnston facing a sexual assault charge
. The charge was later dismissed as part of a deal in which Johnston pleaded guilty to a lesser, non-sex crime charge.
Now Johnston, 28, has been charged again — with felony stalking for his actions during the incident on Sunday. District Judge Joseph Chase released Johnston on his own recognizance at a hearing in Olmsted County District Court Tuesday. His next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 8, 2023.
“They’re trying to get me again,” Johnston told the Post Bulletin. “Olmsted County has really got it out for me.”
Johnston has several minor convictions for theft, driving under the influence and assault. Part of the reason he now tries to catch people he says are attempting to hurt children is because he is trying to give something back to the community, he said.
YouTube deleted Johnston’s channel last year for violating its policies on bullying, Johnston said. Since that time, he took a break from conducting sting operations and filming them. The incident involving his recent arrest marked a return to those activities.
“The ultimate goal with this is to raise money to get sports equipment and stuff like that for kids,” Johnston said, adding that he already has five baseball gloves to donate but is hoping to get more. “There are tons of kids that can’t afford that stuff for whatever reason and then they don’t have an outlet to get into sports and you know what happens next.”
Johnston is one of a number of self-styled pedophile catchers who post their encounters online. Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. — including the Rochester Police Department — have discouraged such activities, citing safety concerns and the chance that a police investigation could be compromised.
“RPD investigators have talked with Mr. Johnston several times and informed him that the best way to file complaints is through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. NCMEC properly handles evidence and works closely with law enforcement,” reads part of an October 2022 joint statement from RPD and the Olmsted County Attorney’s Office.
An officer with the Rochester Police Department responded to a call Sunday from the man Johnston is alleged to have confronted, a doctor in his 40s, according to Johnston.
Johnston posed online as a 16-year-old boy and began chatting with the man before the two decided to meet up, Johnston said. The age of consent in Minnesota is 16 years old. There are a few exceptions to the law,
one being the type of job position someone has over a person
According to the criminal complaint, the man called dispatch to report that he was being held against his will and was being set up for trying to sleep with a teenager.
“A male and female could be heard in the background calling the victim a pedophile,” part of the complaint reads. Johnston and an unidentified woman were recording the man, yelling at him and following him, the responding officer wrote in the complaint.
The man told the officer that he met someone on a social networking application and they mostly discussed smoking marijuana. When the man got to the residence, Johnston let him in and then stood in front of the doorway and refused to let the man leave, the man told police.
“He was coming to the apartment to smoke weed with this kid. I told him that I lived on my own with a roommate because my mom was a meth head and didn’t take care of me,” Johnston told the Post Bulletin. “Legal or not, it was wrong.”
When the man attempted to get past Johnston, he was pushed, the man alleges. While the man was eventually able to get outside, Johnston followed the man and stood in front of the man’s car door.
“(The officer) reviewed the messages and noted that Johnston said he was 20 and then eventually said he was 16,” part of the complaint reads. “The messages were about marijuana and victim also sent explicit photos.”
An arresting officer noted that the conversation between Johnston and the man appeared to be consensual.
The officer who arrested Johnston told him that RPD had warned him not to do this kind of thing, Johnston said.
“He basically told me that if I keep doing it in Rochester, he’s going to find some way to charge me no matter what,” Johnston said.
RPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story but previously sent a statement last year regarding Johnston.
“Mr. Johnston’s aggressive nature is also very problematic. For the safety of all parties, RPD strongly discourages confrontational practices like the ones used in the videos,” reads part of the statement.
Johnston previously said that law enforcement hasn’t done a good job of following up on his accusations. He accuses some law enforcement of just not wanting to pursue charges.
“They say that I’m potentially interrupting their investigations by doing this,” Johnston said. “I have to disagree, because if somebody potentially has child pornography on their laptop or whatever and I go to expose them to the whole community, it’s not that hard to investigate the guy.”
Johnston’s stalking charge is a felony because of two previous assault convictions in 2022. One involves a misdemeanor domestic assault charge and another involves a May 2022 confrontation in a Rochester gas station.
A video on Johnston’s now-defunct YouTube channel showed Johnston and his friends berating and threatening a man they accused of trying to lure a 15-year-old boy for sex. The criminal complaint in that case alleged that Johnston struck the man in the genitals and face.
Johnston was originally charged with fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, a gross misdemeanor, fifth-degree assault and fourth-degree damage to property, both misdemeanors. A plea deal secured a conviction for the lesser assault charge.
Those experiencing sexual exploitation can call a 24-hour crisis line at 507-289-0636 to speak to someone who can direct you towards help.