Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Crime

Polk teacher, coach and church youth director faces 408 child porn charges, sheriff says

Detectives are still examining thousands of images and other storage devices, said Polk Sheriff Grady Judd. More charges are likely.

A 46-year-old high school teacher, soccer coach and church youth director was arrested Friday on 408 counts of possession of child pornography, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Shawn Fitzgerald teaches at Lakeland High School and has coached the boy’s soccer team there since 2014. He is also the youth director at First United Methodist Church in Bartow.

“His whole world is around young children,” Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said at a Saturday news conference announcing the arrest.

The investigation has just started, Judd said, and more charges are likely as his agency gathers more evidence and examines the digital images and storage devices obtained via a search warrant.

The Sheriff’s Office said it recently learned from the private, nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that a Kik messenger app was used to upload a 20-second video depicting a young girl engaged in pornographic acts on Feb. 20. That led investigators to Fitzgerald, though the Sheriff’s Office did not elaborate.

Shawn Fitzgerald, a 46-year-old Lakeland High School teacher, boy's soccer coach and church youth director, faces more than 400 counts of possession of child pornography, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
Shawn Fitzgerald, a 46-year-old Lakeland High School teacher, boy's soccer coach and church youth director, faces more than 400 counts of possession of child pornography, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office. [ Polk County Sheriff's Office ]

Polk sheriff’s detectives served a search warrant on Fitzgerald’s home on Thursday night. Detectives said they found the Calculator Vault app on his phone that looks like a calculator but is used to hide images and requires password access.

Fitzgerald told detectives the app contained photos from an “extramarital affair,” Judd said, and that he had forgotten the password.

Detectives obtained a search warrant for the phone and found “thousands of images” stored inside the app, Judd said. So far they have identified 408 images that depict children as young as 10 months old being sexually abused by adults and engaging in illicit acts with other children, the sheriff said.

Not all the images are pornographic, Judd said, but investigators expect they’ll find more illicit material as the investigation continues.

“There’s no illusion in our minds that there will be additional child porn charges,” Judd said.

None of the images appear to be of children whom Fitzgerald has had contact with, he said. Nor does it appear that any of the pornographic materials were produced locally. The Sheriff also said that so far there is no indication that Fitzgerald physically harmed any children.

Fitzgerald, who is married and has two adult children, also coached at George Jenkins and Bartow High Schools in Polk County. His job status with the Polk County School District was not known Saturday.

He was booked into the Polk County jail where the sheriff said he was being held in lieu of more than $2 million bail.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement