My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:
The city administrator for West Bend, T.J. Justice, has been arrested and charged with two felony counts — one for child enticement-prostitution and one for soliciting a child for prostitution. If convicted, Justice could spend the next 50 years in prison. Justice has posted bail and is on paid administrative leave from his city job until the Common Council decides what to do with him. At this point, there are more questions than answers, but the ramifications will be felt in our little city for some time to come.
According to the criminal complaint, Justice began texting with a teenage girl in May 2015. The texts were salacious, with Justice repeatedly and forcefully telling the girl that he wanted to have sex with her and was willing to pay her money for it.
In September 2015, the girl’s mother discovered the texts and responded to Justice saying, “no I’m 16, stop.” Justice responded with surprise at her age, but then appears to have continued aggressively soliciting the girl for sex with full knowledge that he was pursuing an underage girl. At one point he even allegedly texted, “your age is a turn on accept that and let’s figure this out babe.”
This February, the girl’s mother contacted the police about the situation. A Muskego police detective posed as the girl and contacted Justice to set up a meeting Thursday to have sex for $200. Justice showed up right on time with a bottle of Viagra in the car and was subsequently arrested. After first denying it, he confessed claiming that he would only have had sex with the girl if she consented — as if that ameliorates the fact that he was allegedly intending to pay an underage girl, who cannot legally consent, for sex.
Where do we go from here? As far as Justice is concerned, the criminal justice system will take care of him. It appears from the criminal complaint that the police did a superb job collecting evidence and the likelihood of conviction is high. Hopefully the next time we hear from Mr. Justice is in 50 years when the girl is collecting Social Security and our grandchildren are arguing over where to place a released nonagenarian sex offender.
As for the city of West Bend, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered and city leaders will need to find a replacement while caring for city employees reeling from the news. If the criminal complaint is true, it is clear Justice is a rotten human being and a predator. It is possible that he was a master manipulator and successfully concealed his rottenness from friends and coworkers. That has certainly happened in the past where horrible people manage to appear perfectly normal in polite society.
It is also possible that signs were overlooked, or worse, covered up. We already know that Justice lied on his application for city employment, saying that he had a college degree when he did not. At the time, the Common Council and mayor considered that fact against his record of achievement and decided to forgive that transgression. Since Justice has been a city employee, were there other transgressions? Were there complaints? If so, what happened? Are there more victims?
One thing that jumps out from the criminal complaint is how brazen Justice was. He used his own phone and name while openly soliciting a teenage girl he had never met. It was either incredibly stupid or incredibly arrogant. While it is possible that Justice was able to hide his hideous behavior, the shameless way in which he behaved in soliciting a child makes it difficult to believe that this was the first and only incident.
As I said, there a lot of questions and it has been less than a week since Justice was arrested. While we must push for answers, we must also be patient as people work through the legal and procedural issues. Since this is a personnel issue with the city, some information won’t be forthcoming for some time, which will be frustrating. And there will be those who oppose the current city leadership who will seek to use this for their own political advantage. We must be discerning in separating fact from fiction.
This incident also serves as another in a long line of reminders that parents must monitor their kids’ online behavior. It is not about trusting your kids. It is about not trusting people like Justice who may be preying on them.