Saturday, April 21, 2018
Public safety

Child sex suspect from New York caught, released and captured again in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — The first time police here encountered Jesse P. Sawyer, in late January, he was homeless and sleeping in an abandoned building on U.S. 19.

The last time — on Friday afternoon — police were arresting the 25-year-old New York man on federal charges of producing child pornography.

Under normal circumstances, Sawyer's story may have gone unnoticed by many in the Tampa Bay area. But for several hours Friday, his name and face were splashed across local TV screens and news websites as a drama unfolded.

That's because earlier in the day, a procedural delay had allowed Sawyer to slip through officers' fingers.

They detained Sawyer at about 10:54 p.m. Thursday after being told by New York authorities that he was at Calvary Chapel church at 8900 U.S. 19 N. Yet even though police saw that Sawyer had a federal warrant referencing the promotion of child sex, they did not have confirmation that the warrant was valid. They called the FBI to get it.

When that confirmation still hadn't come almost two hours later, police decided that Sawyer had to be released.

"Our policy says the person can be detained for a reasonable amount of time," said Pinellas Park police Sgt. Adam Geissenberger. "Of course, reasonable is subjective. Our shift commander deemed it a reasonable amount of time, though."

About six minutes later, at 12:46 a.m. Friday, the FBI verified the charges. It was unclear why it took so long for the verification to be made.

Police went back to the church. Sawyer was gone, and no one could find him.

As hours passed, accusations flew and finger-pointing ensued, as law enforcement agencies on opposite ends of the country put out their own versions of events while asking for the public's help in finding Sawyer, who appeared to have arrived in the Tampa Bay area just a few months ago.

New York authorities, who have been investigating Sawyer for months, were incredulous. Troy, N.Y., police Capt. John Cooney said an acquaintance of Sawyer's told police in January that she had found disturbing pictures of him with children. The images showed him engaging in sex acts with three girls, Cooney said.

None of the victims are over the age of 6, Cooney said. A federal warrant was issued March 18.

Geissenberger said Pinellas Park officers at first were not aware of all of the details of the New York case. Regardless, he said, officers always get confirmation of warrants.

Authorities aren't sure why Sawyer came to Florida. Records show that a police officer spotted him sleeping in the abandoned building on Jan. 27. At some point, he began attending Calvary Chapel and participating in its residential discipleship program. The church said it ran a background check, which came back clear.

Sawyer remained elusive until about 2 p.m. Friday, when Pinellas Park police got a cellphone number for him. They called, and Sawyer said he was still in the area.

Authorities found him walking through a strip mall parking lot in the 8700 block of 49th street N. A couple of hours later, he was in the Pinellas County Jail.

"What a great end result," Cooney said. "Procedural issues can be analyzed at a later time. Kudos to Pinellas Park."

Comments
Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

TAMPA — Deputies are searching for a woman accused of blocking a special needs school bus with her car, getting out and banging and kicking on the bus door until she broke the glass.And there were four children inside, deputies said, as she shouted a...
Updated: 4 hours ago
St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

ST. PETERSBURG — Officers are searching for a 20-year-old woman who they believe to be missing and who could be in danger.Kayla Brandi Boone was last seen at about 11 p.m. Thursday in the 2700 block of Fourth Street S, according to St. Petersburg pol...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Deputies: 19-month-old child found in New Port Richey pond has died

NEW PORT RICHEY — The 19-month-old child that was found in a pond on Thursday afternoon has died, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.The incident took place at about 12:31 p.m. Deputies and firefighters were called out to a home in the 47...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Cops used dead man’s finger in attempt to access his phone. It’s legal, but is it okay?

Cops used dead man’s finger in attempt to access his phone. It’s legal, but is it okay?

LARGO — Most people agree what the Largo detectives did at the funeral home was legal.What they diverge on is whether it was appropriate."I just felt so disrespected and violated," said Victoria Armstrong, whose fiance, Linus F. Phillip., was shot an...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Suspect in Gilchrist deputies’ slayings has Tampa Bay ties

Suspect in Gilchrist deputies’ slayings has Tampa Bay ties

The man identified as the suspect who fatally shot two Gilchrist County deputies in a restaurant Thursday afternoon before taking his own life has ties to the Tampa Bay area.Deputies say John Hubert Highnote, 59, of Bell — who was found dead outside ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Authorities say motive in deputy killings may never be known

Authorities say motive in deputy killings may never be known

TRENTON — Investigators in Florida say they may never know why a man - a recluse from a rural farm community who rarely ventured into town - killed two sheriff’s deputies while they sat in a Chinese restaurant. John Hubert Highnote, 58, of Bell casua...
Updated: 11 hours ago
One injured, suspect in custody in Ocala school shooting

One injured, suspect in custody in Ocala school shooting

OCALA — One student shot another in the ankle at a Florida high school and the suspected shooter is in custody, authorities said Friday.The Marion County Sheriff’s Office reported that the shooting happened Friday morning at Forest High School, which...
Published: 04/20/18
Flight attendants say ‘appalling’ Southwest flight photo confirms it — you’re not paying attention to the safety demo

Flight attendants say ‘appalling’ Southwest flight photo confirms it — you’re not paying attention to the safety demo

Mario Nunez called it a "huge shaking my head moment" when the photo inside the cabin of Southwest Airlines flight 1380 appeared on his TV.The story was about a terrifying emergency landing after an engine exploded 20 minutes into a trip from New Yor...
Published: 04/20/18
A state trooper kept pulling women over to ask for dates

A state trooper kept pulling women over to ask for dates

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey State Police trooper accused of repeatedly pulling over women to ask them out on dates has been indicted. The state attorney general’s office announced Thursday that 32-year-old Eric Richardson faces charges including off...
Published: 04/20/18
Pinellas detention deputy fired for using racial slur

Pinellas detention deputy fired for using racial slur

LARGO — Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fired a detention deputy Friday after an internal investigation found he used a racial slur to describe black inmates.A fellow Pinellas County Jail deputy reported Jorge Lopez, 30, after he repeatedly used the s...
Published: 04/20/18