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Sarasota sheriff blasts Manatee’s sketch release

SARASOTA — An effort by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to inform the public on the progress of an investigation of a confirmed serial attacker of women in Sarasota turned into a critique of the decision by Manatee investigators to release a sketch of a possible suspect in a similar attack in northwest Bradenton.

In recent weeks, sheriff’s offices in Sarasota and Manatee, along with police departments in Sarasota and Bradenton, have pledged to work together to find out if one man has beaten 10 women in brutal attacks in both counties.

But during the reading to the media of a prepared statement detailing DNA test results, Sarasota Sheriff’s Col. Steve Burns on Tuesday criticized the release of the sketch.

“Continued circulation of that composite in regards to this overall investigation may be detrimental,” Burns said.

Burns then walked out of the press conference without further comment from sheriff’s officials.

Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube, who did not attend the press conference, said he had spoken with Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight prior to the news conference and there was no mention of the sketch or the coming statement.

“I will be making a phone call,” said Steube. “We have said all along that the sketch was a witnesses recollection from one of our cases, and we released it to try to generate some information on that particular case. I don’t see how it is detrimental to our case.”

Earlier in the news conference, Burns had announced that DNA found in the Sarasota cases has confirmed that the same attacker is responsible for more than one of the attacks. It is still unclear if the five cases in Sarasota are related to five attacks in Manatee. Sarasota detectives have not released a description or information on a possible suspect.

Based on the DNA evidence “we are confident in stating that a number of the cases are related,” Burns said.

He did not comment on how many cases were linked by DNA, or which cases. In Sarasota, a woman has been killed in her home and one sexually assaulted.

Burns then turned to the Manatee sketch, saying “that it is a depiction of a possible suspect in one particular case.” He went on to say the case the sketch is based on is not linked by DNA to the Sarasota cases, and said the release of the sketch may be harmful to the multi-agency investigation.

Steube said there is little evidence in Manatee’s cases as the attacker or attackers wore gloves and a mask during each attack, and no DNA has been found.

“We just don’t have much,” said Steube. “We don’t know if our cases are related to Sarasota’s so we are going to do everything we can to catch somebody.”

Steube said Burns’ comments will not hamper cooperation with Sarasota on the investigation.

“We will continue to share information, we have to get a break in these cases,” Steube said.

Steube said Manatee detectives are also anxiously awaiting the results of work being done by the FBI to see if the attacks are indeed linked, and if so, creating a profile of an attacker.

“We want to see what the FBI comes back with to find if they believe this is one guy,” Steube said.

Meanwhile, Steube urged residents not to let their guard down because another attack is certainly possible.

“People need to be looking out for anything suspicious and call us, said Steube.

“People should also be getting phone numbers of their neighbors to improve the flow of information on suspicious activity or crime in their neighborhoods.”

Anyone with information on any of the cases can call the sheriff’s office at (941) 747-3011, or Crimestoppers at (866) 634-TIPS.