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Sheriff: Man who groomed, raped, and infected child with HIV used tactics that were ‘the best I’ve seen, in the worst way’

John Cole (Genesee County Sheriff's Office)

John Cole (Genesee County Sheriff’s Office)

A 55-year-old man in Michigan who already spent several years in prison for intentionally infecting his adult sexual partners with HIV was arrested again last week after he allegedly “groomed, raped, and sexually assaulted” a juvenile teen while also infecting the young victim with the disease.

John Cole, also known as Johnny Peters, was charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, three counts of accosting a child for immoral purposes, and one count each of knowingly engaging in sexual intercourse with intent to infect someone with HIV, third-degree criminal sexual conduct, fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and child sexually abusive activity, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

According to Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson, the criminal history of Cole dates back to 1987 when he was first charged with and convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. In 1995 he was convicted of uttering and publishing, which is when a person forges or alters documents, such as checks, with the intent to defraud a business or person.

But Cole became a literal plague on the community about a decade ago when young men testing positive for HIV began to rise precipitously, officials said. Swanson said the Genesee County Health Department director contacted the sheriff’s office in 2013 and requested they look into the significant increase in the positive testing numbers.

“They were able to track the information back to Johnny Peters (Cole), who was knowingly infecting sexual partners — adult partners — with HIV without informing them,” Swanson said in a Facebook Live post.

Cole was convicted of felony sexual penetration with an uninformed partner and spent seven years in prison, which Swanson noted is rarely charged.

When Cole was released from prison in December 2022, he changed his name from Johnny Peters to John Dushan Cole, Swanson said. He also latched on to a family member of a 15-year-old boy he met at a basketball game. Swanson said Cole used a shared birthdate with the child to begin grooming him for sexual assault.

In February, Cole took the victim to a basketball game and allegedly sexually assaulted him for the first time on the way to the venue. He allegedly took a detour into a parking lot and “aggressively” sexually assaulted the victim. Cole is then accused of sexually assaulting the victim again on March 1 at a local bowling alley.

Speaking generally about the child sexual predators he’s encountered in his law enforcement career, Swanson said Cole may be the most skilled in his depravity.

“In this path that we’re on of what predators can do, he is one of the most vile that I’ve seen because of the nearly four decades of doing this,” Swanson said. “His grooming tactics were some of the best I’ve seen, in the worst way.”

He then showed a video of Cole recording a podcast episode where he claims he was abused as a kid and would never let such hardships happen to another child on his watch, posturing, which Swanson says is another grooming tactic for predators. In the video, Cole is wearing a bright red “Nickelodeon” T-shirt.

“I made it in my mind that I personally would make sure a child never experienced what I went through,” Cole said.

Authorities say they recovered evidence from Cole’s cellphone indicating that at least two other individuals recently had sex with Cole without knowing he was HIV positive. It was unclear whether those victims were adults or children.

Cole was arraigned on Thursday, where Genesee District Court Magistrate Kristen Grant set his bond at $425,000.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.