Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Public safety

16-month-old arrest warrant for Safety Harbor child rape suspect was served too late

LARGO — A 16-month-old warrant for the arrest of a Safety Harbor man with a history of violent crimes was in the possession of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office when he allegedly raped and impregnated his live-in girlfriend's 11-year-old daughter, court records show.

Gregory J. Johns, 42, was shot to death in a motel room in Treasure Island on Saturday morning by Pinellas sheriff's deputies as they tried to arrest him on a charge of sexual battery. They shot Johns when he threatened them with a knife, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Johns' case is over, except for a pending review of the deputies' decision to use deadly force. But the circumstances surrounding it are shaping up as a potential embarrassment for Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who in 2009 eliminated a team of 16 deputies whose primary responsibility was to find and arrest fugitives like Johns.

Gualtieri's opponent in the Nov. 6 general election for sheriff, Democrat Scott Swope of Palm Harbor, said Johns' ability to elude arrest shows the folly of that decision, part of sweeping budget cuts Gualtieri made because of declining tax revenues while he was chief deputy.

Swope said other criminals like Johns could lurk among the 56,000 outstanding arrest warrants backlogged in Pinellas County.

"I think it's a public safety issue when there are 56,000 active warrants in Pinellas County and the current sheriff has disbanded the fugitive section," Swope said. "I do not think it should have been disbanded."

Johns had served six prison sentences on charges including robbery with a deadly weapon and grand theft and was most recently released by the Florida Department of Corrections in July 2009.

In February 2011, a warrant was issued for his arrest on a charge of obtaining oxycodone by fraud, a felony. According to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, detectives with the Pinellas Sheriff's Office Narcotics Task Force suspected Johns of passing a phony prescription at a pharmacy in St. Petersburg.

Yet Johns was not arrested — not that month, not that year. It wasn't until July 2012 that he was finally taken into custody on the drug charge and then released on $7,500 bail. Meanwhile, in June, he allegedly raped his 11-year-old victim, who discovered in August that she was pregnant, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Gualtieri said it was "silly" to try to connect the slashing of the fugitive division with Johns' case. He said the job of making warrant arrests is now being done by patrol deputies, who learn of any fugitives on their beats through a countywide software system.

Johns escaped capture because his last known address was in St. Petersburg rather than his girlfriend's residence in Safety Harbor, where the reported rape took place, according to Gualtieri. Even if Johns had been arrested, he could still have posted bail and walked free pending his case's resolution, the sheriff said.

"Just because you get arrested on a drug charge doesn't mean you go to prison for life and can't commit any more crimes," Gualtieri said. "I'm very comfortable with what we did in eliminating that fugitive unit."

Yet the 2011 charge could well have resulted in another incarceration, even if a short one, said Tampa criminal defense lawyer Joe Caimano. A likely scenario is that Johns would have struck a plea deal or been sent to trial in less than six months, then been sent to either prison or county jail for a period of up to 18 months, he said.

"I think once you've got a guy who's been to prison as many times as this guy, and he gets picked up on a new felony warrant, he's looking at time," Caimano said.

Gualtieri, who last month won a bruising primary race against former Sheriff Everett Rice, is running in his first election. Last year he was appointed to finish the term of former Sheriff Jim Coats, who stepped down.

Political consultant Travis Horn of Tampa said the failure to arrest Johns before the rape in June could serve as potent campaign ammunition against the sheriff, depending on what further details emerge in the case and how Gualtieri responds.

"How much responsibility an incumbent sheriff would have remains to be seen," Horn said. "It's certainly a compelling set of facts."

Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

Comments
Sheriff: Two dead, one seriously injured in Hernando shooting

Sheriff: Two dead, one seriously injured in Hernando shooting

BROOKSVILLE — A suspect is in custody after a fatal shooting and standoff in Brooksville on Tuesday night.During a news conference Tuesday night, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said two people were found dead in a house on Azen Loop, in the Hill...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and NHL All-Star Weekend overlap Saturday in downtown Tampa. Here are highlights of what to know before you go.GETTING THEREThe parade route runs generally along Bayshore Boulevard north to Ashley Street (In blue on t...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Hernando sheriff: Shooter injures three; in standoff with SWAT

UPDATE:  A suspect is in custody after a fatal shooting and standoff in Brooksville on Tuesday night. BROOKSVILLE — A shooter was on the loose Tuesday night after injuring three victims, according to Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis. The sheriff ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Sheriff: Pasco man planned, then carried out neighbor’s execution

Sheriff: Pasco man planned, then carried out neighbor’s execution

HOLIDAY — A neighborhood dispute ended in gunfire when one neighbor executed another on Tuesday, deputies said, as the victim kneeled in his own front yard begging for his life.The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said the execution, which took place ju...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

BRANDON — The 11-month-old girl who drowned in an apartment complex pond on Monday was identified as Deleah Morgan by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday.Deputies released no other details about the incident or the ongoing investigation....
Updated: 11 hours ago
Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

CLEARWATER — Officials have reopened U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. except for the inside lane.  The entire highway was closed for a brief period Tuesday while workers cleaned up a chemical spill after a Terminix truck flipped over. According t...
Published: 01/23/18
Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California man has been sentenced to five months in federal prison for smuggling three highly venomous king cobras hidden in potato chip canisters through the mail.In a plea agreement, Rodrigo Franco admitted smuggling anothe...
Published: 01/23/18
He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

A Miami resident lost control of his truck and tumbled into Tampa Bay Tuesday morning — and walked away unscathed.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Osvaldo Jares, 25, fell asleep at the wheel of his 2002 Ford F150 before losing control and dri...
Published: 01/23/18
Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Gabriella "Gabbie" Green went to her mother, Tanya Green, for advice on some "girl drama" and harsh text and social media messages she was receiving from classmates at Surfside Middle School in Panama City Beach.Less than an hour after that conversat...
Published: 01/23/18

Truck carrying frozen chickens catches fire on I-75 in Brandon

Southbound lanes on Interstate 75 were closed in Brandon early Tuesday morning after a semi-trailer carrying frozen chickens caught fire.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 52-year-old Brian Keith Jester, of Venice, was driving southbound near S...
Published: 01/23/18