Lieutenant appeals discipline after abduction case

Lt. Rob Schoonover, Sheriff John Rutherford testify before Civil Service Board about night Cherish Perrywinkle was kidnapped

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The police lieutenant in charge of tracking down Cherish Perrywinkle the night she was abducted and killed appealed his punishment Thursday night in front of the civil service board.

Lt. Rob Schoonover's hearing in front of the civil service board lasted close to four hours Thursday night.

Schoonover was suspended for three days and removed from the homicide division by Sheriff John Rutherford after a review of the events the night that Perrywinkle disappeared.

Schoonover explained Thursday why an Amber Alert wasn't issued for Perrywinkle. He referenced his communication with a sergeant at the scene about the abduction.

"He told me there were some questions of (it) being a true abduction," said Schoonover. "They reviewed the video from Walmart and it showed the suspect, (the) child's mother and two kids up and down the aisles with a cart putting items in it for at least two hours."

Schoonover told the board that the sergeant told him they watched Perrywinkle get in a van with Donald Smith, the man now charged with her murder, and then drive away with seemingly no problems.

"As (a) homicide lieutenant I'm playing all the factors. Was the mother doing this because mother was supposed to visit dad in morning, take a flight out? We deal with these things continuously," said Schoonover.

Schoonover said he delayed the decision to issue an Amber Alert, and in his testimony he said that 99 percent of missing-person cases turn out to not be abductions.

Rutherford also testified Thursday night and at times he was blunt in his assessment of Shoonover's actions, specifically about the fact that Schoonover did not get out of bed the night Perrywinkle was abducted.

"If Lt. Schoonover had gotten out of bed, I don't know (if) it would've changed anything. But I'll tell you what, if it had been one of your children wouldn't you at least to have wanted us to try?" said Rutherford.

Schoonover admitted Thursday during the hearing that he did not go to the scene the night Perrywinkle was abducted and killed.

"Why didn't you go to the scene?" asked a civil service board member.

"At that point with information we had no bona fides, no abduction. Yes, (the) child is missing, I'll give you that. She's missing but with all the information, watching the video and him telling me what we had I did not feel it was necessary to go out there at that time," answered Schoonover.

Rutherford told the board that his agency made a mistake and even though there were some questions about Perrywinkle's mother that night, an 8-year-old girl was missing and they needed to make this a worst-case scenario.

"What that did was limit the ability for me as a sheriff to say to the community, and more importantly the mother, we did everything possible to save that child. Well, I can't say that," said Rutherford.

Schoonover testified he'd handled multiple abduction calls, but this was the first where the victim was a child.

In the end, the civil services board decided to give Schoonover a lighter punishment than what the sheriff handed down. Schoonover received a written reprimand from the board instead of a suspension.

Schoonover also reiterated his desire to be the next sheriff in Jacksonville. Schoonover announced he was running for sheriff before Perrywinkle was abducted and killed.

"We said from the get-go this was too harsh a punishment. Now I want to move forward and concentrate on the election," said Schoonover.

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