Lieutenant breaks silence over Perrywinkle case

by: Leslie Coursey Updated:

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Cherish Perrywinkle, 8, disappeared from a Northside Walmart in June 2013.  She was kidnapped, police say, by registered sex offender, Donald Smith.

 Within nine hours, Cherish would be dead , Smith would be in custody and the police officer in charge of the investigation would be under fire. 

 “"It's definitely going to be with me for the rest of my life,” said Lt. Rob Schoonover with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

 Schoonover is a 33-year veteran of JSO. He was at home the night Perrywinkle disappeared. He had just returned from a trip. He was getting updates by phone from the sergeant on scene -- standard procedure, he said.

 “I was home. I got the call. I was not tired. It was just based on our protocol that we let the team go out there and vet the information, see what it's going to lead to before I run out there every night, every call," he said.

 He didn’t physically go to the scene right away -- a move that would eventually lead to an internal investigation and disciplinary action by Sheriff John Rutherford. Schoonover was removed from the homicide unit and reassigned to patrol.

 Action News asked him if he regretted not going to the scene sooner.

 “You know we can always look back," he said. "If I had all that information up front, most definitely I would have been at that scene.”

 While he was getting almost-constant phone calls, he said there was a time, between his go-ahead to issue the Amber Alert and when Perrywinkle's body was found, when he wasn’t updated.

 “I wish I was there. I do. But I just didn't get the call and that's something that I've had to deal with," he said.

 “Have you lost sleep over it?" asked Action News' Leslie Coursey.

 You know, I did at first," he said. "When you're the unit commander of the homicide unit, you do take things personally because you want to see justice for the victims.”

 Lt. Schoonover is now running for sheriff -- a plan he had even before Perrywinkle's disappearance.  He believes his punishment was too harsh. But he’s had to live with the consequences for a year now.

 “I stand by what I did and I have to accept that," he said. "I just hope people understand that this was just one incident -- that hopefully it won't tarnish my whole career.”