Recently arrested former Vero Beach officer, sheriff’s deputy faced child sex charges two decades agoDecember 24th, 2010 by TCPalm.com
By Keona Gardner
VERO BEACH — A former local law enforcement officer who successfully defended himself two decades ago against allegations that he plied teenage boys with alcoholic beverages and molested them is now facing similar charges in St. Johns County.
Former Vero Beach Police officer and Indian River County Sheriff’s deputy James H. Scharfschwerdt, 53, of St. Augustine, was arrested Wednesday morning in St. Johns County and charged with three counts of lewd or lascivious battery on a child. Scharfschwerdt, who directs a springtime competitive fishing tournament in Jensen Beach, continued to be held Thursday morning in lieu of $1.5 million bail at the St. Johns County Jail. The St. Augustine Record reported that on three occasions Scharfschwerdt allegedly gave a juvenile boy alcoholic beverages and molested him.
Vero Beach Police spokesman Officer John Morrison said the department would not comment on a previous employee.
Scharfschwerdt’s legal troubles in Indian River County started in October 1988, while he was a Vero Beach police patrolman and adviser for the department’s Police Explorer youth program.
According to a 1988 Vero Beach Police arrest report, Scharfschwerdt showed pornography to a male teen, gave him beer and performed oral sex on him. Also, in a separate incident, an 18-year-old man claimed when he was 12 or 13, he spent the night at Scharfschwerdt’s home and woke up when the man was rubbing his stomach and genitals.
Scharfschwerdt was charged in Indian River County with 11 counts of lewd or lascivious acts against a child, sexual battery and battery. He was a Vero Beach Police officer then, but suspended as a result of the allegations.
In August 1989, a jury found Scharfschwerdt not guilty of four counts of felony lewd or lascivious acts against a child under 16 and one count of misdemeanor battery, court records show.
His next trial on two other lewd or lascivious charges was to start in December 1990, but he entered a plea agreement with the State Attorney’s Office on Nov. 29, 1990. That agreement allowed him to plead no contest to misdemeanor battery in exchange for the state dropping the sex-related charges.
Scharfschwerdt received one year of supervised probation. At the time, state prosecutors said they dropped the remaining charges because it was in the best interest of the victims. Further details about why the agreement was reached were not available Thursday.
At the time of the plea agreement, former Vero Beach Police Capt. Ronald Blanton said he was “100 percent convinced” of Scharfschwerdt’s guilt.
“I have no doubt in mind,” Blanton is quoted saying in a Nov. 30, 1990 Press Journal article about the case. “He’s a pedophile. He’ll always be a pedophile. He’s not going to be cured.”
Scharfschwerdt worked for the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office from 1979 to 1985, personnel records show. His file is filled with letters touting his “bravery” during a residential burglary and helping the Sheriff’s Office’s organized crime unit seize a boat used in drug smuggling.
Ironically, Scharfschwerdt as a police officer was credited with helping solve high-profile child molestation cases such as the case of former Vero Beach Police and Indian River County Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Gary Martin, who was sentenced in 1987 to seven years in prison on five counts of lewd and lascivious conduct stemming from the fondling of boys ages 11 to 16.
The Vero Beach Police Department hired Scharfschwerdt in February 1985 after the Sheriff’s Office didn’t reappoint him as a deputy in January 1985, records show.
“(Scharfschwerdt) has an excellent rapport in dealing with teenagers,” a September 1987 Vero Beach Police Department employee performance review stated.
Scharfschwerdt is also a competitive angler and directs the annual Frances Langford Memorial Fishing Tournament each spring in Jensen Beach. He competed with the Wound Tight Fishing Team LLC in a number of tournaments. Scharfschwerdt has also been active with the Southern Kingfish Association, which organizes fishing events throughout the Southeast.
October 1979: James Scharfschwerdt is hired by the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.
Feb. 12, 1985: Scharfschwerdt is hired by the Vero Beach Police Department after being told he would not be reappointed as an Indian River County sheriff’s deputy.
Oct. 19, 1988: The first of what would eventually total 11 charges of lewd and lascivious offenses upon, or in the presence of, persons under 16, involving five boys, are filed against Scharfschwerdt. The 31-year-old patrolman had been suspended from the city police force six days earlier when then-Police Chief James Gabbard learned of the allegations. Scharfschwerdt resigned two months later.
Aug. 23, 1989: An Indian River County jury acquits Scharfschwerdt of charges that he sexually abused a 13-year-old boy in August 1986. Prosecutors continue to press the remaining charges.
Nov. 29, 1990: The state drops all sex-related charges against Scharfschwerdt in a plea agreement. Scharfschwerdt pleads no contest to a single count of misdemeanor battery and agrees to permanently forfeit his law enforcement certification.
Dec. 22, 2010: Scharfschwerdt, now 53 and a resident of St. Augustine, is arrested in St. Johns County and charged with three counts of lewd or lascivious battery on a child.