No charges for former Cloquet coach after amateur sting
Three men confronted Brendan Phelps in a Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, park, alleging that he solicited a 16-year-old boy over the internet.
NEW ULM, Minn. — A junior hockey coach won’t face criminal charges after he was apparently caught in an amateur sting.
Brown County Attorney Chuck Hanson on Tuesday declined to charge Brendan Phelps, a now-former coach of the Minnesota Wilderness in Cloquet, for child solicitation.
Three men confronted Phelps in a Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, park in mid-June, claiming the coach was there to meet what he thought was 16-year-old for sex. Phelps was quickly fired from the team and temporarily suspended by the U.S. Center for SafeSport.
A video of the confrontation, which the men posted under the name “Midwest predator catchers,” has been viewed more than 68,000 times as of Aug. 18.
But the video, screenshots of the online conversation that the men provided to Sleepy Eye police, and statements they gave don’t indicate Phelps committed a crime, according to Brown County Attorney Chuck Hanson.
“The individuals that were posing as sort-of undercover agents said in their messages that they were 16,” Hanson told the News Tribune. “Well, that’s the age of consent in Minnesota.”
The law to which prosecutors compared the evidence against Phelps is 609.352 , which prohibits solicitation of children for sexual conduct and sending sexually explicit materials to children. The first line of that law defines a “child” as someone 15 years old or younger.
“Whatever your personal thoughts on whether an adult male should be asking a 16-year-old to have sex, it’s not illegal in Minnesota right now,” Hanson said.
Prosecutors’ decision didn’t come as a surprise to Gideon Turgeon, one of the three men who confronted Phelps in the video.
The profile Turgeon initially created claimed to be 16, which is above Minnesota’s age of consent. Turgeon said he looked up the law after he first heard from Phelps, then continued the sting because he hoped to get the coach in trouble for providing alcohol to a minor.
“I looked it up and then I realized,” Turgeon said of the consent law, “but then he started talking about buying me alcohol, so that’s why I continued.”
Phelps has not been charged with a crime related to Turgeon’s video. The News Tribune is naming him because of the public interest garnered by the video and Phelps’ former position at a regional hockey club.
Phelps was Turgeon’s first “catch,” he said. In subsequent ones, he and his compatriots have pretended to be someone younger than 16.
The videos Turgeon posts of he and others jumping out to confront men in rural Minnesota they believe are set to have sex with young teens have been viewed thousands of times apiece.
One of the group’s stings thus far has led to a criminal charge.
With phone cameras rolling, Turgeon and two others confronted Brandon Peterson, 26, in a Mankato Walmart on Aug. 1, claiming he was there to meet a 14-year-old girl for sex. They pushed Peterson to call the police, and Blue Earth County prosecutors charged Peterson the next day with two counts of child solicitation.
Peterson’s attorney has moved to have the charges dismissed. His first court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 25.
Turgeon said he hopes the Phelps video can get a conversation going about raising the state’s age of consent.
He also objects to the term “vigilante,” preferring instead to be thought of as a concerned citizen and father.
“I’m not burning their houses down,” Turgeon said. “I’m just trying to get them to stop doing this to kids.”