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Child pornography investigation identified regional victims; results in more than 18 year sentence

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Former Crockett County Sheriff’s Deputy, Matthew Ward Berry, appeared in U.S. District Court Western District of Tennessee for sentencing on multiple child pornography charges on Friday, April 23.

Berry was sentenced to 220 months in federal prison to be followed with five years of supervised released.

Berry was arrested on charges of receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography on September 18, 2019 at his home on Hunter Lane in Bells.

The search of Berry’s residence was initiated after Detective Matthew Barr of the Michigan City Police Department in Michigan City, Indiana was able to connect to a device at Berry’s residence using a law enforcement version of peer-to-peer (P2P) software seeking out individuals sharing child pornography on the network.

Barr was able to connect to the device determined to be Berry’s laptop on May 7, May 9 and June 19 of 2019. At this time, Detective Barr’s attempt to load indicative explicit content from Berry’s laptop failed. It was explained that the unsuccessful download would have been from Berry disconnecting from the software.

On June 25, Detective Barr successfully connected to Berry’s laptop where he was able to successfully download three images and video files indicative of child pornography.

During the execution of the search warrant, Berry admitted to viewing child pornography for a “long time.” He said that when he was home alone, he would obtain the images, view them, then delete them, but said he was not aware the images were available for others to download from his computer.

Emails found later in the investigation indicated images dated back to 2002 containing minors engaging with adults.

During his first hearing on September 20, 2019, Crockett County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Joseph Evans testified that upon inventory of Berry’s patrol vehicle, a brown evidence package was found in the passenger side floorboard containing gloves, a black zipper case, digital scales, a white substance and 5.8 grams of a substance that field tested positive for methamphetamines.

Berry was arrested in Crockett County for schedule II (methamphetamine) possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver. This charge was dismissed in November 2020

Berry initially pled not guilty in September 2019 to all child pornography charges against him but later changed his plea to guilty on count one receipt of child pornography and count two possession of child pornography during a virtual court hearing on September 9, 2020.

Although the change of plea to guilty bypassed a jury trial, sentencing revealed additional details into offenses against two West Tennessee victims.

TBI Special Agent Adam Mathis of the Technical Service Unit in state and federal cases reviewed devices involved in this case.

During the initial search, 24 digital devices were retrieved including smartphones, hard drives and laptop that were analyzed.

P2P software was not found on cell phones but images within the cellular device indicated the same type of torrent files.

It was determined that as Berry admitted during the search of his home, Berry did download P2P software and delete at least four times over a few months. This was explained by Agent Mathis as a common practice for users to download the software, use it and delete so that the program isn’t left on the computer.

Deleting the software prevents others from downloading from another users computers. Having the software downloaded makes your device act as a server that allows others to download images from the device.

Agent Mathis downloaded the P2P software used during this case to verify the user accessibility. The software contained a user agreement that must be consented to before downloading. Within the agreement, it is stated that users understand that others can download from their computer.

He explained the software home screen to be similar to past popular sharing software such as LimeWire or Napster.

The users home page would display what they are downloading at the top of the split screen while at the bottom, it would display what was being uploaded from the users device to another users device.

Berry also downloaded the help app for the software used during downloads.

Two thumbnail images from video downloaded by Barr from Berry’s computer were presented during sentencing.

These images depicted prepubescent females partially nude, performing sexual acts and having acts performed on them by another adult. Berry admitted that he did remember one of those videos during an interview.

Berry’s cell phone contained close to 100 images that were downloaded onto a micro SD card and not found on other devices.

He had also created an organized file maze within his laptop that hid several hundred images.

Within this maze, an image of a nude female was located with a portion of a name located in the background of the photo. Agents were able to identify the female as a 17-year-old victim.

Eight images were presented of the victim found within Berry’s file maze, including images of the victim partially nude, posed on the hood of Berry’s police vehicle, wearing a dark colored shirt with a patch on the shoulder. The images were time stamped June 12, 2015. According to testimony, he also provided the juvenile alcohol during this time.

According to prosecutor Deborah Ireland, Berry admitted to having two sexual encounters with the 17-year-old victim.

Additionally, images were found of a young child Berry had known since birth. Within these images, the three to five-year-old female was not aware that Berry was taking pictures of her as she leaned over a couch and lay in the floor watching television at a birthday party. Berry zoomed in to photograph the buttocks region of the young girl that was wearing shorts.

Berry had also taken pictures of unknown small children on a dolphin cruise ship during a family vacation in Alabama in 2014. Images were zoomed in on the unknown children’s pubic and buttock region.

The files also included a multitude of images of concern where Berry took pictures of women living their daily lives within a doctors office, court room, football game and more. These images were similar to previous images where he zoomed in on the buttocks as women bent or leaned against items as they worked.

Additional employment history for Berry includes, law enforcement in Halls, Ripley, Maury City and Brownsville as well as Hardeman County Corrections and the Corrections Corporation of America.

During victim impact statements, his family expressed the grief of his betrayal.

Parents of the young girl photographed at a party expressed their concern for their child’s safety and the over awareness of those around her; their attempt to keep her close and protected.

The 17-year-old victim is now 23-years-old. She explained how he would pick her up while on duty. She said she was drunk at the time Berry took the pictures presented and she didn’t remember posing for them. She trusted him but found out he was well practiced. She said, “My family always said go to a cop if you are in danger, but what do you do when the cop made you a victim.”

Berry did not agree with all of the points made within the victim impact statements. He apologized and said “I know it was wrong. I regret this….I know I am guilty of the charges…I am beyond remorseful. I ask for mercy your honor.”

Chief U.S. District Judge S. Thomas Anderson sentenced Berry to 220 months on count one receipt of child pornography, 120 months on count two possession of child pornography to be run concurrently for a total bureau of prison sentence of 220 months. Berry will serve five years probation following the 220-month sentence. There is no parole in the federal system.

While in prison, he must be evaluated and receive treatment and counseling. Upon release, Berry must follow the law, cooperate with DNA collection, comply with the sex offender registry requirements, follow all standard conditions of supervision, participate in mental health counseling, participate in a specialized sex offender treatment program that may include polygraph and many other terms set out to protect children.

Before sending Berry into U.S. Marshal custody, Judge Anderson said, “your actions have destroyed a lot of families, including your own…Your actions may have removed any trust factor they have in anyone…You have some issues that need to be dealt with. Some mental health issues…This is the only good thing that can come out of this.”

Read more in the Press Release from the U.S Department of Justice HERE.

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