JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 74-page Internal Affairs report from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office reveals mistake after mistake in the investigation of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle the night she disappeared.
Investigators say Cherish was raped and killed by a man who befriended her mom at a Walmart on Lem Turner Road on the Northside. That man, Donald Smith, is a registered sex offender and is currently in jail awaiting trial.
According to the report, 911 dispatchers had doubts when Cherish's mom, Rayne Perrywinkle, called them the night of June 21.
The report says Rayne said things that seemed irrational for a mother whose child had actually been kidnapped. Dispatchers made a judgement call at that point that slowed down the entire investigation.
"Throughout the conversation, the victim's mother told (911 dispatcher P.L.) Robinson that she feared the suspect was going to rape and kill her daughter," the report says.
But that statement was never included in the information Robinson gave to officers in the field. Robinson admitted in the investigation "she wished she had included the statements the victim's mother made regarding her daughter being taken, and the fear that her daughter might have been raped."
Robinson went on to say, "I thought she was lying. It didn't seem like, um, like it was real."
What's more is, a new JSO policy issued the day before the kidnapping may have also slowed down this search for a kidnapped girl.
Robinson designated the 911 call as a Signal 8, a missing person case, instead of the more serious Signal 30, a kidnapping case.
A kidnapping case, would have required officers to automatically contact the media.
Notifying the media, would have allowed local outlets to alert the public through the TV, Internet and social media to be on the lookout for Cherish, Smith and Smith's van.
The internal report stated: "Robinson's lack of attention to detail and her personal opinions of the mother's truthfulness directly resulted in 1) the incorrect dispatch signal applied to this incident and 2) the lack of accurate information being forwarded to everyone involved."
Failure to alert the media continued throughout the night.
Generic emails were sent to the media but never informed outlets there was a search for a missing child. That was likely because of a new memo released by JSO the day before.
Among other things, it says, "Communications Center personnel are prohibited from commenting to the media ... unless requested by ranking incident commander."
Emergency Communications Officer Sgt. D.A. Williams said she did not provide more information to the media because of that memo, saying: "Williams explained that she ensured the broadcasts were sent in the new format because she had been disciplined in the past for sending too much information."
Dispatcher Robinson was disciplined for her mistakes made taking that call.
Meanwhile, JSO detectives had a hard time believing Cherish's mom's story. Some of that was understandable. The report says she claimed to be a psychic and never cried tears the night her daughter was kidnapped.
Still, the report found officers' feelings about the truthfulness about her story may have also slowed down this search for Cherish.
The report says detectives were not sure of Rayne's credibility and had trouble buying her story, especially because Cherish was scheduled to fly to California to visit her father the next morning.
Sgt. Lonnie Mills, who led the investigation in the field, said "he has been doing investigations long enough to be aware of the fact that there was a possibility that the mother could have been hiding the child from the biological father," according to the report.
Mills also commented: "From a normal parental standpoint, some of the things that the mother did were things that a rational parent would not do."
Mills explained Rayne's unusual behavior, saying, "When she cried, she moaned and cried, but he never saw any tears."
He said Rayne also "made odd comments to the missing detectives that she was a psychic and wanted to help the police with finding missing persons; she made the comment that when the police do bring her daughter back, it will be in a box."
Those concerning statements from Cherish's mother are part of the reason Mills did not call in additional detectives for many hours.
But because of the delay, this case was not called a kidnapping until 2:15 a.m., three hours after Cherish disappeared and more then two hours after detectives saw Walmart surveillance video showing Cherish and Smith walking out of Walmart together and driving off in his white van, police said.
Rayne was at a news conference Thursday night when the report was released.
"Things to be changed in the future when someone calls 911 that their child is missing, I want immediate action instead of playing around, and I don't know what else to say," she said.
Attorney Brian Cabrey issued the following statement on behalf of Cherish's father and surviving siblings:
"Regarding the results of the JSO Internal Affairs investigation report, we applaud JSO for their candid admissions. However, we are deeply saddened and disappointed, and somewhat stunned, at the number of mistakes that were made from the very beginning of JSO's response and investigation of Cherish's abduction. While some of those mistakes were known or suspected well before the release of the IA report (most notably the delays in issuing an Amber Alert and notifying the media), other mistakes detailed in the IA report were not, and JSO's multiple violations of its own policies and procedures are disconcerting."
Mills and his boss Lt. Rob Schoonover were both reprimanded in the investigation and moved out of the homicide unit.
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