PINELLAS PARK – Pinellas Park police arrested a New York man wanted on child pornography charges Friday afternoon about 14 hours after they released him after a computer failed to confirm a warrant.
Jesse P. Sawyer, 25, of Pinellas Park, was booked into the Pinellas County Jail about 4:17 p.m. on a FBI federal warrant for production of child pornography.
The story began Just before 11 p.m. March 27, when Pinellas Park police received word from the Troy, New York Police Department that Sawyer was at Calvary Chapel, 8900 U.S. 19. They were told that an active warrant was out for Sawyer’s arrest on child pornography charges.
But, Troy police didn’t tell Pinellas Park PD that the warrant was from the FBI, and Troy PD did not tell local officials that Sawyer was accused of raping little girls, said Sgt. Adam Geissenberger, Pinellas Park police public information officer.
Pinellas Park police went to the location and made contact with Sawyer. Geissenberger said Sawyer was cooperative. He didn’t try to run or give a false name. After making contact, officers found out that the warrant was actually from the FBI and began procedures to confirm the warrant via a computer.
“There was no response,” Geissenberger said. “We don’t know why.”
When no response came back from the computer, officers called the FBI in Albany, N.Y. Geissenberger said the woman they talked to was unable to confirm the warrant.
“She told them she would make some calls and they should call her back,” Geissenberger said.
Eventually officers spoke to a special agent who had knowledge of the warrant, but he could not confirm it, as was required by policy.
More than an hour passed from the time Pinellas Park PD made contact with Sawyer and officers still were unable to confirm the warrant. At 12:40 a.m., the shift commander, a lieutenant, made the decision to release him. At 12:46 a.m., computer confirmation of the warrant was received.
“But now, we’ve cut him lose,” Geissenberger said. “We immediately deploy resources. But, he’s gone, in the wind and we can’t find him.”
As the search for Sawyer continued, Pinellas Park PD began to take some heat on its Facebook page and in the media, especially in Troy where they describe the man as a monster, a sexual offender accused of raping little children, Geissenberger said.
But, as it went down, Pinellas Park followed policy, as well as state and federal law.
“A verbal confirmation is not enough to confirm (the warrant),” he said. “A reasonable amount of time expired and based on the totality of circumstances, without having Troy, N.Y., give the full magnitude and severity of it being a sex crime of a child and not knowing it was multiple rapes of a child.”
“In an ideal world,” Troy PD would have contacted the FBI in Albany, who would have contacted the Tampa office, and local agents would have made the arrest with the assistance of Pinellas Park police, he said.
As it was, Pinellas Park police arrested Sawyer around 2 p.m. about a mile from where they talked to him less than 14 hours earlier. Geissenberger said he had gone for a walk. Officers called his cellphone and he answered. They advised him the best thing to do would be to surrender.
He told them his general area and they found him in a parking lot in the 8700 block of 49th St. N., Geissenberger said. He surrendered with no resistance.
Pinellas Park police had prior contact with Sawyer in January, Geissenberger said. Officers found him sleeping in an abandoned building. At that time, there was no warrant for his arrest.
Geissenberger said if Pinellas Park PD had been more fully informed the circumstances might have been different. The department will be reviewing its policies.
“But at the end of the day, he was apprehended. We followed policy. We deployed all our resources as soon as we understood the severity. The department did all it could.”
According to media reports from Troy, Sawyer took pictures of himself with his cell phone while sexually abusing three children – one age 6 and two others age 5. The photos were then downloaded to a computer.
Geissenberger said Sawyer would remain in the Pinellas County Jail without bond until the FBI extradites him to New York.