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JSO admits to mistakes in Cherish Perrywinkle abduction

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Updated: 9/20/2013 12:28 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is disciplining several officers after an internal investigation into the agency's response into the abduction of Cherish Perrywinkle.

The investigation was launched on June 28 by Sheriff John Rutherford, after several reports were filed within the department.

[Remembering Cherish: JSO Timeline in Search for Cherish]

"There were things that should have been done that did not get done," said Undersheriff Dwayne Senterfitt during a press conference Thursday evening, following the conclusion of the seven week investigation.

Now, Sgt. Lonnie Mills and Lt. Rob Schoonover have been reprimanded and moved from the homicide unit after an internal affairs investigation showed proper procedures were not followed in the Cherish Perrywinkle case. Four communications officers were also given written warnings: Phyllis C. Leonard, Joseph E. Fooshee III, Debi A. Williams and P.L. Robinson.

The 8-year-old girl was abducted from a Walmart on Lem Turner Road on June 21.

"It should have been dispatched as an abduction. It was dispatched as a missing person," said Senterfitt.

Senterfitt says the officer who took the very first 911 call from Rayne Perrywinkle, Cherish's mother, has been suspended for three days. The report details that the officer did not think Rayne Perrywinkle's call was real.

Another communications officer has been reprimanded for failing to quickly call in the air unit, and the sergeant and lieutenant in charge of the communications division that night both received warnings for not taking steps to notify the public information officer.

"When they began receiving more details they should have upgraded that call, called the PIO to get this to the media."

The internal investigation also revealed that two well-known officers within the homicide unit failed to act appropriately.

Senterfitt says Sgt. Lonnie Mills notified his superior, Lt. Rob Schoonover, of the case early on and requested an Amber Alert, but has been reprimanded and moved out of the homicide division for not calling in everyone available.

"He really failed to acquire additional resources. We have a CART team, a child abduction response team, and those resources could have been used in a case like this."

Senterfitt says Mills called Schoonover twice that night, but Schoonover never came to the scene. The report outlines that Schoonover had just returned from a trip out of town, and went back to bed after briefly speaking with Mills to approve the Amber Alert, his first as a homicide lieutenant.

Schoonover now faces a three day suspension without pay and has also been moved out of the homicide unit.

"The first time he was told that they have video of a man taking a girl out of Walmart. The second time he was told we think it's an abduction and we need to do an Amber Alert and neither of those jarred him to get up and get out of bed to go to the scene. If there's ever a call that a lieutenant should get out of bed and go to, it's a child abduction."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued an Amber Alert early the next morning.

Police recovered Cherish Perrywinkle's body behind a church hours later, and later that day arrested registered sex offender Donald Smith in her death.

Senterfitt doesn't fault what the officers did that night, but says it's what they didn't do that resulted in their punishments.

"To have identified the victim, the suspect, and found them both in a matter of 10 hours is remarkable," says Senterfitt, "but we could have done more. Do I think we would have found her in time to save her? Probably not, but if that was your 8-year-old little girl, wouldn't you want us to try?"

Mills and Schoonover have both been moved to the patrol division.

Schoonover and Robinson will be given the opportunity to appeal their suspensions without pay.

Rayne Perrywinkle was not notified of the report until it was announced to the media Thursday. She believes police did not do everything they could do to save her daughter.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Action News Jacksonville

nativejax - 9/20/2013 12:13 PM
0 Votes
She claims she took her eyes off of Cherish for only a few minutes, never 'thinking' she would follow him...this doesn't seem truthful. Even if it were true, why didn't she teach that child of THAT age of stranger danger?

cheriamour - 9/20/2013 6:26 AM
1 Vote
The life of Cherish will be remembered, honored and "cherished." J.S.O. has completed a thorough review. The review reflects the ability of our police to be transparent and be willing to provide us with answers to our questions. Admitting mistakes demonstrates an act of honesty. We now have information to improve public safety.

Realchange - 9/20/2013 12:28 AM
2 Votes
While I am critical of the police when they kill someone for no just cause. They did not kill someone in this case. Was mistakes made ? Yes. The biggest mistake though was a mother letting her daughter go off with man she had just met without knowing him or his background at all. I am more critical of things like a clay county man ending up dead in jail when he was obviously high on something and choked to death by the police. That was whitewashed. Maybe you like the case in south Florida where a man was shot for answering the door in the middle of late night with his gun in hand because police had the wrong address and killed him. Maybe you like the case of the mentally ill man, mind of a 12 year old, playing with toy a15 being killed in cold blood by police officers who claimed they didn't know the difference. Maybe you like the case of former police officers beating a young teenager to death in boot camp and getting away with it. Maybe you like the prosecutor for the Jacksonville uncovering evidence in the Trayvon Martin case and hiding it trying to get rid of it. I see a lot problem areas that should been addressed. This one while tragic would not brought that girl back.

camden - 9/19/2013 11:13 PM
2 Votes
JSO is disciplined, but the birther is walking free who gave Cherish to D. Smith. She has the nerve to condemn everyone but herself. There is a special place for people like R Perrywinkle.
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