Friday, May 25, 2018
Public safety

Tampa man accused of abducting teen had trained as police cadet

TAMPA — A few months before Tony McLeod was accused of crimes that earned him the moniker "PlayStation Predator" on local newscasts, he ran into an old friend at Target.

Devon Singh met McLeod in 2010, when they were cadets at the Hillsborough Community College Police Academy. McLeod had started to apply for a job with the Tampa Police Department that year but never finished the paperwork, according to police.

When McLeod ran into Singh in February, though, he had good news, Singh recalled Wednesday: McLeod was engaged to a flight attendant, he said, and just hired by a federal agency to work railway security in Texas.

Neither of those details could be independently verified Wednesday, the day after Tampa police arrested McLeod, 36, on 10 felony charges including kidnapping and transmission of harmful material to a minor. For weeks, McLeod exchanged sexually explicit photos with a 14-year-old California boy, police said, then traveled there and flew back to Tampa with the boy Tuesday.

McLeod remained in a Hillsborough County jail without bail Wednesday while authorities in Tampa and California tried to determine where he should face charges. Police in Escondido, a city of nearly 150,000 near San Diego, have yet to charge McLeod with a crime. Tampa police said Tuesday afternoon that McLeod should face prosecution in California. Late Tuesday night, however, police here decided to charge him.

"We're making out a path for the best, successful prosecution," Escondido Lt. Neal Griffin said Wednesday after a conference call between officials.

A search warrant affidavit filed by Tampa police in court Wednesday revealed details of the case against McLeod. The warrant describes a man nothing like the man McLeod's fellow cadets called "the last Boy Scout" because of his fastidiousness, according to Singh.

"He was a standup guy," said Singh, who now works in advertising at the Tampa Bay Times. McLeod kept his hair neat, his uniform pressed and his buttons shined. Singh had trouble reconciling those memories with the sullen, disheveled McLeod seen in a jail mug shot taken Tuesday.

"I'm still in shock," Singh said. "This seems so out of character."

McLeod is licensed by the state as a security officer until July. Until a related state license expired June 4, he was also authorized to carry a firearm.

According to the warrant, the boy's parents discovered in May that he had been exchanging explicit photos via cellphone with McLeod. The boy said he'd met McLeod on PlayStation online games and that they'd had an "ongoing online relationship." One of the parents told McLeod to leave the boy alone, the warrant said, then contacted Escondido police May 31.

On Monday, an Escondido detective learned the boy hadn't returned home from school. McLeod had changed his phone number, according to the warrant, so police got McLeod's new number from Verizon and pinged the phone for its location.

The first ping came back about 6 p.m. Monday, according to the warrant. McLeod was in Long Beach, about 90 minutes away. A ping two hours later located him near Los Angeles International Airport. Delta Airlines representatives told police McLeod was on a flight to Tampa, along with the boy, who used an alias.

Tampa police and federal agents were waiting when the plane landed about 6 a.m. Tuesday. They detained McLeod and put the boy in protective custody.

Tampa police continued an investigation Wednesday while arranging a flight home for the teen, according to police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

The search warrant lists items taken by investigators — both what McLeod had with him on the plane, as well as what police found at his home in Quarter at Ybor condominiums. Among them: two iPads, one iPhone, one Samsung Galaxy S phone, two laptops, one security officer license, one Florida firearms license and a Sony PlayStation 3.

Times staff writer Laura C. Morel and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]

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