The 2006 United States v Gordon E. Thomas III case had a tremendous impact on profiling and criminal investigative analysis techniques, especially with regards to potential sexual offenders. This 2006 case was brought against the 29-year-old Gordon E. Thomas, III after he had been caught in an FBI “sting” operation designed to look for traffickers in online child pornography (United States District Court, 2006). Thomas had arranged with undercover Federal officers to purchase digital images of child pornography for $200. Thomas, of course, was arrested by these same Federal agents and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography.
Thomas appeared to be completely repentant, and Federal agents seized the opportunity to have Thomas examined by a forensic psychiatrist and profiler. The psychiatrist diagnosed Thomas with, among other things, pedophilia and a personality disorder (United States District Court, 2006). While Thomas was adamant that the extent of his pedophilic activities was limited to looking at online child pornography, and that he had never been remotely interested in it until he saw “popup” advertisements with graphic images of minors, criminal profilers nonetheless made Thomas their prototype of a pedophilic sexual offender.
While what Thomas did online was disgusting and against the law, this case nonetheless highlights some of the flaws inherent in the use of criminal profiling as an investigative tool (Falda, 2007). Thomas, quite honestly, does not come across as a child pornography “kingpin.” In fact, his amateurishness and lack of suspiciousness are what got him caught by the Federal agents. However, simply because Thomas did get caught, and was so forthcoming about cooperating with the Federal investigators and profilers, he is now the “specific” piece of evidence from which criminal profilers deduce their generalizations about purveyors of child pornography. Unfortunately, Thomas appears to have been more of an “end-user,” and Federal investigators really should concentrate their investigative efforts on the producers and traffickers of child pornography, who may or may not resemble Thomas in personality traits or demographic characteristics.