Dakeem Stockling, 19, of Elizabeth has been charged with second-degree distribution of child pornography and third-degree possession of child pornography, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo announced Friday.
The charges are the result of an investigation by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office’s Cyber Crime Task Force that began in early March 2020. During the course of the investigation, detectives obtained court orders allowing the search of Stockling’s Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat accounts. Those searches confirmed that he had been in possession of and distributed multiple sexually graphic images of a minor, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Patricia Cronin, who is prosecuting the case.
The charges come amid a surge in referrals involving child pornography offenses that coincides with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first full month following the March 9 executive order initiating a public health emergency, the Task Force received 29 referrals, up from just 17 in April 2019, according to Sgt. David Nechamkin, the investigative leader of the Task Force. This surge mirrors trends seen statewide and across the country. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently reported that the number of tips it received exploded from just under 1 million in March 2019 to slightly more than 2 million in March 2020.
Facing this surge, Ruotolo urged parents to stay alert to the online activity of their children, noting that “as our children spend more time away from school and friends, going online instead, they unfortunately risk coming in contact with those who will seek to exploit them.”
A first appearance in Stockling’s case has been scheduled for Wednesday, June 17 in Union County Superior Court. Stockling is also awaiting sentencing in a separate, similar matter, in which he recently pleaded guilty to charges of third-degree invasion of privacy and fourth-degree cyber harassment.
Convictions on second-degree criminal charges are commonly punishable by 5 to 10 years in state prison.These criminal charges are mere accusations. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The Prosecutor’s Office urges any Union County citizens who suspect incidents of child pornography possession or distribution, or any similar crimes, to report them to their local police department. Additionally, any suspected child sexual exploitation, online or otherwise, can also be reported via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline (via www.cybertipline.com or 1-800-843-5678).