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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."

Child sex suspect from New York caught, released and captured again in Pinellas Park 03/28/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2014 9:20pm]
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