Manatee authorities arrest man in string of recent sexual attacks (with video)

MANATEE -- One week after a 12-year-old girl narrowly escaped a sexual assault, sparking a county-wide search for a man wanted in a string of sexual attacks on young girls, local law enforcement made an arrest.

Jared Jenkins, 23, was in custody Thursday and admitted to raping a 15-year-old girl and attacking two other girls in Bradenton, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s a relief that the community doesn’t have to worry about this guy anymore,” said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski. “We’re happy to make the community that much safer by taking this predator off the streets.”

Jenkins was arrested at a residence in the 7000 block of Chatum Light Run in east Bradenton at about 12:30 p.m. on a warrant charging him with false imprisonment in connection with a Nov. 29 incident involving a 15-year-old girl in the 5100 block of 51st Street West. He also faces a charge of attempted sexual battery in the case, which was investigated by the sheriff’s office.

According to Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube, Jenkins also faces charges of:

n Kidnapping and sexual battery, in connection with the rape of a 15-year-old girl on Jan. 31, in the 4900 block of 47th Avenue West. This case was investigated by the Bradenton Police Department.

n Attempted sexual battery and kidnapping a child under the age of 13, in connection with an attack on a 12-year-old girl Feb. 10, in the 5500 block of 26th Street West. This case was investigated by the sheriff’s office.

A key break in the case came after the third attack, when detectives learned that two different surveillance cameras in the vicinity of the assault -- including one at Bayshore High School -- had captured images of a man believed to be the suspect.

One of the cameras, owned by homeowner Victor Taylor, showed an assailant grabbing the girl, and then fleeing after she told him that there were people in the area who might see or hear what was happening, according to the sheriff’s office.

In that incident, the suspect picked up the girl and carried her a short distance to a low hanging oak tree, where he attempted to sexually assault her, a report said. Trees and bushes have since been cut down in the rear parking lot of Christ United Methodist Church where the girl thwarted her attacker.

At his home Thursday, Taylor said, “The father came by and gave me a hug and said thanks a lot. He seemed relieved. At least he’s been caught and he can’t hurt anyone else.”

Hunting for the suspect

Steube said detectives took still images from the surveillance tapes and asked local businesses in the area if they had seen the man.

“As good policemen do, they went back and canvassed the neighborhoods these crimes occurred,” Steube said.

Then a match.

A person at the Boys & Girls Club, 5231 34th St. W., recognized the man and was able to give detectives a name, Bristow said. From there, they were able to get a photo.

“We showed a photo lineup to our first victim ... and she was able to positively identify this person as attacking her,” Steube said. “As a result of that we were able to secure an arrest warrant for him and a search warrant for a residence.”

Not going public

The weeks leading to Jenkins’ arrest were not without controversy.

Radzilowski on Wednesday said he regretted not informing the public sooner about the rape and revealed Thursday the argument his detectives gave him for not making the information public.

“We had some information from witnesses, even though they didn’t know who the guy was, (and) the detectives were doing stake-outs and patrolling,” Radzilowki said. “We didn’t want him to change his pattern of going out in public.”

Radzilowski also said detectives informed Manatee County schools after the Jan. 31 incident. There are several schools within the perimeter of the three attacks, including Bayshore High School, Bayshore Elementary School, The Pendleton School, Lee Middle School and Central High School.

Last Friday, however, was the first time parents of students at Bayshore High and several of the schools were warned by the district that a man who assaults young girls was at large. The district waited from Jan. 31 until Feb. 11, the day after the last assault, to generate thousands of automated calls to parents at all the schools located near the reported assaults.

Schools spokeswoman Margi Nanney said after Thursday’s press conference that the district will review its protocols on parental notifications.

“We’re never pleased with the safety of our schools and we’re always going above and beyond,” said Superintendent Tim McGonegal. “The camera we had the pictures on was added a year ago. It’s not like it’s been there a long time. We had some cameras, but now we have 116 cameras on the Bayshore site.”

Jenkins was being held without bond at the Manatee County jail on charges of sexual battery, kidnapping and false imprisonment, according to the jail website.

These are not the first sexual charges against Jenkins. In 2005, police arrested the then-17-year-old Booker High School starting linebacker in connection with the sexual battery of a girl in a school bathroom, according to Herald archives.

Jenkins pleaded not guilty and entered a pretrial diversion program, according to state records.

Although investigators believe there are no other recent victims, they are asking for any other victims or people with information to contact either the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office at 747-3011, the Bradenton Police Department 932-9301 or remain anonymous and possibly become eligible for a cash reward by calling Crime Stoppers at (866) 634-TIPS (8477).

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