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Lakeland teacher, soccer coach had hundreds of child porn files on phone, Polk deputies say

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 11/21/2020 Cristóbal Reyes, Orlando Sentinel
a close up of a man: Shawn Fitzgerald © Polk County Jail/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Shawn Fitzgerald

A Lakeland High School teacher and varsity soccer coach was arrested Friday after an investigation found hundreds of files depicting child porn on his phone, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said on Saturday.

Shawn Fitzgerald, a 46-year-old from Lakeland who also worked as a youth director at a church in Bartow, was booked in the county jail on 408 counts of possession of child pornography.

More charges are expected to be filed as deputies continue to search through the contents of Fitzgerald’s phone, where thousands of images — though not all sexually explicit — were found, Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters.

“I can promise you this: we’re going to bring every charge we can,” he said following an annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway in Eagle Lake.

Detectives were alerted to the content by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which informed them of a 20-second video sent in February over Kik, a messaging app.

Judd said the sheriff’s office is also looking to track down the source of the material, which featured victims as young as 10 months old to teenagers.

However, there is no evidence any of the content found on the phone was created locally or featured “any children that he may be related to or has taught in school in the past,” nor is there evidence that Fitzgerald preyed on children, he added.

“But that’s not much comfort, because those 408 children were victimized every time he received or traded or looked at this child pornography,” Judd said.

Fitzgerald was hired to take over Lakeland High School’s soccer program in 2014 and was heralded for coaching stints at George Jenkins and Bartow high schools, the Lakeland Ledger reported at the time.

He was later hired as a teacher at the school’s exceptional student education department, according to the school staff directory.

“An arrest like this shakes the entire community,” Judd said in a statement. “A man entrusted with the education and guidance of so many children, working closely with them, and betraying that trust in such a heinous way.”

creyes-rios@orlandosentinel.com

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