Amid a nationwide manhunt, Florida police detained a sex crimes fugitive accused of raping several children only to set him free after waiting less than two hours for the National Crime Information Center to confirm the warrant for his arrest.
Just five minutes after Jesse Sawyer Jr. was set free by Pinellas Park police, they received a faxed copy of the federal warrant. By then Sawyer was long gone.
The manhunt continued and 14 hours later a detective convinced Sawyer over the phone to turn himself in to Pinellas police on Friday.
Sawyer faces federal charges for allegedly taking photos of himself sexually assaulting young children, including one victim under the age of five.
A warrant was issued weeks prior to his arrest.
When Pinellas authorities first found Sawyer at a church shelter around midnight Thursday, the FBI and police in Troy both provided verbal confirmation of the warrant. But police insisted they needed a copy of the document itself.
Officers waited an hour and 42 minutes for a copy of the warrant then declined to arrest Sawyer. Although there is no designated amount of time they are permitted to hold a suspect, they set Sawyer free.
"In this litigious society… we can’t deem the warrant to be valid until it comes from an official, authorized source," Pinellas Park Police Sgt. Adam Geissenberger told WNYT.
He said a voice over the phone isn’t enough.
“Yes, he identified himself as a law enforcement officer, but this is like you calling me telling me,” said Geissenberger.
Police in Troy were stunned that they let Sawyer go 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.
Geissenberger said Pinellas authorities thought Sawyer was wanted for child pornography.
“What we originally got was he’s wanted for child pornography,” Geissenberger said. “Is this deplorable? Absolutely. Is it the crime of the century? It’s not. Had they told us that he is also wanted for raping children they may have held him longer.
"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 added.