JSO disciplines 6 officers after Cherish Perrywinkle investigation
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two prominent detectives of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Homicide Unit were reassigned and four other officers disciplined for their actions or lack of action responding to the kidnapping of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.
Thursday night, police released an internal investigation into their officers' response when Perrywinkle was abducted and later killed on June 21 and how JSO alerted the public.
Undersheriff Dwain Senterfitt said that officers failed to carryout proper procedures during the search for Perrywinkle, and for that, they were reprimanded.
"I'm not faulting the work they did," Senterfitt said. "I'm really faulting some of the things that they should have done that they didn't do."
Senterfitt said Thursday night that Sgt. Lonnie Mills waited several hours to notify chief of homicide Lt. Rob Schoonover of the specific dangers facing Cherish.
Senterfitt also said that Mills failed to call more officers to help in the investigation. Once the homicide lieutenant was contacted, Senterfitt said Schoonover failed to respond to the scene and failed to notify his chain of command after authorizing the Amber Alert.
"Sgt. Mills and Lt. Schoonover will be removed from homicide," Senterfitt said.
Schoonover will be suspended for three days without pay and Mills was given a written reprimand.
Not long after the killing, questions had been raised about the Sheriff's Office's response in notifying the public about the 8-year-old girl's abduction.
Police arrived at the Walmart where Cherish was abducted at 11:18 p.m. June 21. Roughly three hours passed before local authorities asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to issue an Amber Alert, and five and a half hours before police told the local media that a child was abducted by a known sex offender.
Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, attended Thursday night's news conference to hear the outcome of the Sheriff's Office investigation into the first hours after the kidnapping.
"I respect the police for doing their job; I really do, because they've worked a lot of hours," Perrywinkle said. "But I think, if they would have done their job faster and not blamed me for it in the beginning, Cherish would be here. I truly believe Cherish would be here."
Donald Smith, a registered sex offender, was stopped the morning after the abduction driving the van was seen leaving the Walmart. Within an hour, Cherish's body was found in woods near a Northside church.
Smith is charged with kidnapping, sexual battery and first-degree murder.
Asked whether he thought getting the word out to the public earlier might have made a difference, Senterfitt was reflective.
"Do I think if we had called (the media) 2:30 or so in the morning to put on the news that she was missing in this white van, do I think I we would have found her in time to save her? Probably not," Senterfitt said. "But if that was your 8-year-old little girl, would you want us to try? And that's what it comes down to."
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