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Accused child molester caught, released, then caught again

Updated: 03/30/2014 3:39 PM
Created: 03/28/2014 1:40 AM WNYT.com
By: Steve Flamisch

TROY – The city man accused of sexually abusing three little girls was arrested Friday in Pinellas Park, Fla., capping 14 hours of twists and turns in the case that has captured national attention.

Acting on a tip, Pinellas Park Police found Jesse P. Sawyer, 25, in a church shelter at about midnight. At that point, he was detained but not arrested.

The FBI and Troy Police provided verbal confirmation of the federal warrant for Sawyer’s arrest, and scrambled to provide a copy of the document itself.

But officers declined to arrest Sawyer until the National Crime Information Center confirmed the warrant, Pinellas Park Police Sgt. Adam Geissenberger told NewsChannel 13.

"In this litigious society… we can’t deem the warrant to be valid until it comes from an official, authorized source," Geissenberger said, adding that voices on the phone do not suffice.

After one hour, 42 minutes of waiting for the desired confirmation, the officers let Sawyer go. Police in Troy were stunned that an alleged child molester was allowed to walk free.

"There's a big difference between calling Troy about a guy who's wanted for speeding tickets, and a monster… who's destroyed the lives of children," Troy Police Capt. John Cooney said.

Five minutes after Sawyer’s release, Pinellas Park Police received a faxed copy of the warrant, Cooney said. By then, Sawyer was gone. The manhunt began again.

Police searched for the next 12 hours. Then, at about 2:00 p.m., a Pinellas Park detective reached Sawyer on his cell phone and convinced him to surrender, Geissenberger said.

Sawyer was taken into custody in a parking lot about one mile from the location where he had earlier been detained and released, Geissenberger said.

Troy Police expressed relief that Sawyer, the subject of a 10-day nationwide manhunt, was finally in custody.

"Regardless of the procedural issues that we discussed earlier in the day -- and which we're sure will be clarified and worked on in the future -- the job has been done," Cooney said.

Sawyer allegedly molested a six-year-old girl and two girls under the age of five, Cooney said. He is accused of taking pictures of the alleged sexual abuse.

Sawyer is facing a federal charge of producing child pornography, Cooney said. It was unclear when he will be extradited to New York.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Sawyer is facing 15 - 30 years in prison if convicted of the federal charge of producing child pornography. 

Convicted offenders could face harsher penalties, including life imprisonment, if the minor was sexually abused, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

This is the latest picture of Jesse Sawyer, taken by police in Florida on Friday afternoon.
Photo: Pinellas Park Police Department
This is what Sawyer looked like when police first detained him early Friday morning.
Photo: Pinellas Park Police Department

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