SAN BERNARDINO — When Karl Pettway opened the front door to his second-story stuccoed apartment, a man posing as a construction worker told him his car may have been dinged.
Pettway peeked out and spotted his Ford, unscathed.
But what he didn’t see immediately were special agents from Homeland Security Investigations and a Newport Beach police detective waiting to arrest him on suspicion of felony possession of child pornography once he was a safe distance from his neighbors. Not long after, he was in the back seat of a black sedan, wearing pink handcuffs and headed to Newport Beach Jail for booking.
The Inland Empire arrest on a recent Friday was made possible by the Orange County Child Exploitation Task Force, a partnership between the Newport Beach Police Department and federal and regional agencies that provides resources to pursue suspected child predators.
The NBPD department first became involved with the task force after its involvement with the Los Angeles Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which sought to expand into Orange County. The department then joined the OC Child Exploitation Task Force, which targets suspected child pornographers, sex tourists, online predators and child molesters, about a year ago. Huntington Beach also works with the O.C. group, providing forensic assistance and detectives when a case involves suspects or victims in Surf City, said HBPD Lt. Mitch O’Brien.
That partnership helped NBPD Det. Dave Syvock track Pettway through an online investigation. With a Homeland Security Investigations summons to Pettway’s Internet service provider, Syvock pinpointed the suspect’s address on Placentia Avenue in Newport and served a search warrantin February, taking a desktop computer, external hard drive and laptop.
Those items were later examined and, in the meantime, Pettway moved to San Bernardino. After investigators reviewed the data, the task force mobilized and caught up with Pettway at his new place.
Pettway, 64, pleaded not guilty to one felony count of possession of child pornography and is free on bail awaiting trial. He is next expected in court in June. If convicted, he faces three years in state prison, according to prosecutors. He could not be reached for comment and his attorney did not return a call from the Daily Pilot.
Newport called the partnership successful and pointed to a recent example of their teamwork.
In October, the NBPD was stretched thin as detectives searched for the body of a woman whom they believed had been killed in a Newport Coast home.
Detectives worked two days straight and already had a suspect in custody, but finding the woman’s body remained a high priority, Newport Beach Capt. Dale Johnson said.
A phone call to the task force gave the department additional personnel to aid in the search, Johnson said at a recent ceremony recognizing the work of the task force.
“They dropped everything else they had going to come help us,” he said.
Johnson said he initially — and incorrectly — assumed that the department would be helping with larger state- or regional investigations, receiving little in return.
“It’s like any relationship. You’ve got the giver and the taker,” he said at the ceremony, later adding that, “We find ourselves on the other side of the equation, where we’re receiving more than we’re giving.”
In return for the department’s commitment, the task force gets an extra body to help with investigations and parental education about the dangers of online predators.
Weeks ago, Pettway became the task force’s 63rd arrest since its 2011 inception, with far more nationwide, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
Those who prey on children can look like anyone — from a friendly neighbor or a working professional to a recluse.
“There is no face on a predator,” Syvock said.
Huntington Beach Independent staff writer Anthony Carpio contributed to this report.