Randolph Commissioners approve $500k to fight online child exploitation

Randolph County Commissioners

ASHEBORO – The Randolph County Board of Commissioners convened on Monday, Dec. 4, addressing a variety of significant items on their agenda.

The meeting began with the reappointment of Commissioner Darrell Frye as board chairman and Commissioner David Allen as vice chairman, both by unanimous decision. Frye expressed gratitude, stating, “I thank this board, not just for this immediate action, but we’ve had an eventful last four years here in this county,” acknowledging the board’s unity and commitment throughout various challenges.

“Most of it’s been for the good, but we’ve gone through issues together and the board has stayed together and stayed on course through that process,” Frye said. “I thank the board and I thank all the citizens of Randolph County. It’s a great county, a great place to live and a great place to raise our children.”

Additionally, the board reaffirmed the positions of county attorney, clerk to the board, and various county board representatives and liaisons.

The board approved a $505,430 investment in the Invictus Project, aimed at combating human trafficking and child exploitation. Sheriff Greg Seabolt detailed the project’s proactive approach, including a recent operation revealing the extent of online predators. The funding will cover additional personnel, forensic lab equipment, and other necessary resources.

“The program is designed to combat the human trafficking and exploitation of children,” said Sheriff Greg Seabolt. “The Invictus Project will be a proactive effort to protect our children from online predators. In August of this year, we performed a three-day operation with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The operation consisted of online chats with many predators from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The operation showed that predators would not hesitate to drive long distances with the intention of sexually abusing our children. This project is a focus driven, proactive approach to bring attention to this problem that law enforcement has been unable to prioritize due to a lack of manpower and budgeting.”

The project, which aims to take a proactive approach, will encompass sheriff’s offices from Randolph, Alamance, Davison and Forsyth County with additional agency support from Homeland Security, NC State Bureau of Investigation, Randolph County District Attorney’s Office and Lantern Rescue.

“It will utilize a methodical approach to investigate cyber tips based upon solvability factors, working in concert with investigative partners to strategically use available resources,” Seabolt said. “The project will utilize a victim-centered approach to forensic examination of evidence to uncover human trafficking elements of cases that would otherwise go unreported.” ‌The funding will go towards two additional detectives, two civilian positions, forensic lab equipment, office renovations and lab licensing fees and will run through the remaining six months of the fiscal year.

A resolution was passed to support renaming two bridges off of Highway 220 in honor of David and Sarah Stedman. Donald Vaughan, former vice president of Stedman Corporation and Stedman Foundation, advocated for this change, highlighting the Stedmans’ contributions to the community and their extensive philanthropy.

“They were great people and they loved this community,” Vaughn told the Commissioners. “Their handiwork goes all the way from the North Carolina Zoo to the Sarah Stedman Center at Duke University and we believe it would be fitting and I speak on the behalf of many thousands of employees at Stedman Corporation.”

Victory Junction, a camp for children with serious illnesses, received $100,000 in Strategic Planning Funding. CEO Chad Coltrane explained the fund’s use for marketing, transportation, and facility upgrades, emphasizing the camp’s mission of providing transformative experiences at no cost.

“Our mission is to serve kids 6-16 years of age with chronic medical conditions and serious illnesses and we do that free of charge,” said Victory Junction CEO Chad Coltrane. “We’re 140 acres at Victory Junction’s $45 million facility founded in 2004. We provide camp services free of charge. We say that we are providing a life-changing camp experience for those children. We provide love, empowerment and hope at Victory Junction. That’s what we aim to do at camp.”

A public hearing was held to discuss updating the county’s noise ordinance. Planning Director Tonya Caddle noted the need for modernization, given the ordinance’s original drafting in 1985. However, the board decided to table the decision, seeking further language refinement. County Attorney Ben Morgan emphasized the importance of careful consideration, citing potential impacts on various community sectors.

The next meeting of the Randolph County Board of Commissioners is scheduled for Jan. 9.

By Ryan Henkel, North State Journal