Flood Warning issued July 24 at 10:42AM EDT expiring July 25 at 10:42AM EDT in effect for: Pasco
A New York man wanted by the FBI on allegations that he took cellphone pictures of himself sexually abusing children was arrested Friday in Pinellas Park.
Jesse Sawyer Jr., 25, was taken into custody in a strip mall parking lot at 8730 48th St. N., authorities said.
The arrest occurred after Pinellas Park Police Department detained Sawyer on Thursday night and released him. According to the agency, police let him go after the FBI took more than an hour to confirm whether Sawyer had an arrest warrant.
"It's important to remember, though, he has rights like everyone else. This is a matter of what is a reasonable amount of time to detain someone, not free to leave, to confirm the validity of a warrant," Pinellas Park Police Sgt. Adam Geissenberger said.
Friday morning, police and FBI agents went door to door, questioning residents about Sawyer.
By that afternoon, police received a call from someone at Calvary Chapel St. Petersburg in Pinellas Park who had spoken to Sawyer and said he wanted to turn himself into police.
Because this is a federal case, Sawyer will eventually be sent back to New York.
Pinellas Park police called what occurred a communication breakdown. Had officers known the severity of the charges Sawyer faced, police officials said their response would have been different.
"All that we knew from New York – there was a child pornography charge," Geissenberger said.
After being alerted to Sawyer's whereabouts by police in Troy, N.Y., Pinellas Park police officers made contact with Sawyer at Calvary Chapel, where he was staying.
Sawyer was cooperative, according to a police statement.
Police said they held Sawyer at the church for more than an hour and 20 minutes while waiting for the FBI to confirm the federal warrant. About 12:45 a.m., nearly five minutes after they released him, the FBI confirmed the warrant.
Officers returned to the church, but Sawyer was gone.
Sawyer had been participating in a residential ministry at Calvary Chapel. Church officials said they did a background check on Sawyer but it did not reveal a criminal record.
"It's a slap in the face. I can tell you that. I'm speechless," said church volunteer Jennifer Brulla when told why police were looking for Sawyer.
Sawyer is accused of using his cell phone to take so-called "selfies" of himself sexually abusing several children. At least one victim was younger than 5.
"In this case we are talking about infants," Troy Police Capt. John Cooney told NEWS10 ABC in Albany, N.Y. "We are talking about children who are literally only years old; very, very disturbing. And about the worst that I have seen or heard in my time with the department."
Sawyer then downloaded the photos onto someone else's computer.
"The person came across those images on their computer, and then did the right thing and led us to the location of the phone," Cooney said.
Specific facts surrounding the incident are being withheld, according to police, but they say it "is fair to say that the warrant does not address all the heinous acts perpetrated by the suspect; additional charges are likely upon apprehension."
Police said they do not know how long this was going on for or if there are any other victims. They said they became aware of the alleged crime in January.
Cooney said Sawyer was a child when adults in his life were being arrested for sex crimes.
"Our research into those surrounding Mr. Sawyer in his childhood shows that there were criminal acts of sexual conduct that people were held responsible for," he said. "And we, today, have him engaging in the worst level of the same type of sexual conduct."