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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Crime & Courts

N.Y. child rape suspect released, arrested in Pinellas Park

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Published:   |   Updated: March 29, 2014 at 10:44 AM

PINELLAS PARK — A New York man accused of raping three children and taking photographs of the sexual assaults with his cellphone was arrested Friday, hours after he was released by Pinellas Park police officers who said they could not get confirmation from the FBI of an existing warrant for his arrest in a timely manner.

The decision to release Sawyer Thursday night has caused an uproar, with Pinellas Park police and the FBI disagreeing about how long it took the federal agency to confirm the warrant. Meanwhile, the Troy Police Department, where the case originated, called the decision to release Sawyer “premature.”

Geissenberger said police were told by Troy police that Sawyer was staying at Calvary Chapel at 10:54 p.m. Thursday, and officers met with him by 11:21 p.m. Before arresting him, police had to confirm the warrant, the sergeant said, and at no time were they made aware of the allegation that Sawyer had sexually assaulted children.

The FBI office asked officers to call them back, which they did, but an unidentified operator with whom officers spoke for three minutes could not confirm the warrant. At 12:04 a.m. Friday, an FBI agent called and confirmed that the warrant was legitimate, but verbal confirmation does not suffice, Geissenberger said. Pinellas Park police needed a teletype confirming the existence of the warrant.

After waiting for more than a half-hour, they released Sawyer at 12:40 a.m., Geissenberger said. Six minutes later they got the teletype, the sergeant said.

The Albany FBI division, which is handling the Sawyer investigation, has a different time sequence.

“The Albany division verbally confirmed the subject warrant within approximately 30 minutes of receiving the initial request,” Paul Holstein, chief division counsel and media coordinator for the division, said in a prepared statement.

Troy police criticized Pinellas Park police in a prepared statement.

“One consistent element of the scenario is that Pinellas Park released Sawyer after a very short time, citing that they had not yet received a hard copy of the federal warrant,” the statement said. “The warrant was faxed to Pinellas Park within an extremely reasonable period of time. It does appear, however, that their decision to release the defendant was premature.”

The agency stressed that it “would hope that Pinellas Park will dedicate their energy to apprehension rather than explanation.”

Geissenberger defended his department.

“Had we been given more information at the onset of the investigation, we would have been able to make a better informed decision,” the sergeant said. “However, given the information we had at the time and the totality of the circumstances to include no confirmation of the warrant and the extended time that Sawyer was being detained, we made the decision to release him from our control.”

Geissenberger noted that the warrant charged Sawyer with producing child porn, and a national database listed the crime as a sex offense, to wit, promoting child sex.

“No one at any time told us he was charged with committing sexual acts against children,” he said. “It was ambiguous.”

Pinellas Park homed in on Sawyer on Friday afternoon by calling him on his cellphone. Sawyer informed him of his general location, and a Pinellas Park police officer spotted him.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504.

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