OAKLAND — A nine-year veteran police officer for the town of Oakland was arrested Wednesday on child sex charges involving a 2-year-old child to whom he had access.
Joshua David Smith, 32, of Lakeland, was arrested March 18 after detectives said he sent explicit images of the child to undercover officers. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd also said Smith sent disturbing messages.
The investigation — conducted by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation — began at about 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 18, when the FBI received a message on a social-networking site in reference to sex acts Smith was committing on a 2-year-old child, along with images of the child.
“The FBI received some information ... outside of the state of Florida that someone was engaged in some horrific communications concerning the sexual abuse of very young children — as young as 2 years of age,” Judd said.
Following the tip, investigators went to Smith’s home in Lakeland.
“What we found there was absolutely startling,” Judd said. “We had photographs of a very young child. When our detectives and FBI agents went into the residence, we found that very young child wearing the exact same clothes that (were) in the photographs.
“This police officer, James Smith, sent these images to prove that he had access to a live child,” Judd said. “The conduct, the communication is so horrific, so graphic, so outrageous that the normal person would never, ever, ever be able to comprehend what was said,” he said.
In the communications with the undercover agents, Smith called himself “James King” and the “no-limit perv dad.”
Oakland Police Chief Steve Thomas said Smith was immediately placed on administrative leave indefinitely. He has both positive and negative write-ups in his file — but nothing that would indicate anything like this.
“We were clearly shocked when we learned of this investigation,” he said. “This was one police officer that was engaged in activities that we had no knowledge of. It had nothing to do with his job here.
“This is something that is appalling,” Thomas said. “We know this is going to cast a shadow. Please don’t judge our department by the actions of one officer.”
Oakland Police Lt. John Peek, who has been with the department since 2008, said the department employs an extensive vetting process that includes, among other items, FBI database fingerprinting, criminal-history checks, searches in various police databases, social-media checks, credit-report checks, state and national sex-offender database checks, FDLE mandated drug screening, psychological assessment and a polygraph examination. However, Smith was hired in 2006, and it is unknown what process was used when he was hired.
Although Oakland officers on duty help with traffic before and after school at Oakland Avenue Charter School, Thomas said Smith has been assigned to night patrol for quite some time.
“At this time there’s no indication that any kids in Oakland were involved in this,” he said.
Thomas said his department has been and will continue to be cooperative in the investigation.
“We have been and continue to work with Polk County in whatever they need,” he said.
Judd did not provide additional information regarding any possible relationship between Smith and the child; he only said Smith had access to the child. The child is now in the mother’s care; the mother did not know about what had been taking place.
Smith was arrested and charged with one count of directing/promoting sexual performance of a child. He currently is being held in the South County Jail in Frostproof in lieu of $150,000 bond. Further charges are pending a forensic analysis of the computer devices and cell phone seized from Smith’s home.
Michael Eng and Zak Kerr also contributed to this report.
The Observer has invested in new technology, so you can enjoy a more personalized online experience. By creating a user profile on OrangeObserver.com, you can manage settings, customize content, enter contests and more, all while continuing to enjoy all the local news you care about — Click Here it's FREE.