They said Good Samaritan spotted the child and tried to help her find her parents.
Witnesses say they saw the man walking with the girl, pointing to various adults and asking if they were her parents.
Thinking they were stopping a crime, the father and two friends approached the stranger: As his friends took the toddler away, the father punched the good Samaritan "probably five or six times", he told WFLA.
"The citizen attempted to ask the girl where her parents were and walked with her in the hopes she could point them out", the department's post said.
But as the pair neared a playground, the girl's father suddenly appeared and was enraged.
Bystanders who saw the man walking towards the parking lot with the child alerted her parents, who feared the worst.
"I thought he was trying to take my daughter", the girl's father told News Channel 8 in Lakeland.
He said he even had to take his own family out of town.
The father said he and three other men found the so-called-kidnapper and that he punched him repeatedly, while one of the other men grabbed the child. The Good Samaritan does not have a criminal history and officers verified that he was there visiting friends, who happened to be off-duty deputies.
When asked by the station whether he believes the victim was trying to do a good thing, the girl's father was clear in his response.
People should "be careful about what you post on social media so as not to victimize an innocent person", Lakeland police wrote on their Facebook page on Sunday.
Within hours of the incident, social media users named Patel as a child predator.
'Before posting information on matters such as this, we encourage people to identify the source and the validity of such claims before sharing them'.
Police say a Good Samaritan was trying to help a little girl who got separated from her parents, but the child's family ended up beating the man and calling him a child predator on social media. "I wanted to kill him!"
Lakeland Police determined that the man was not trying to kidnap the child, following an investigation.
'Posting false information on Facebook could cause a defamation of character claim and those posting false information could be held libel, ' the Lakeland Police Department wrote on its Facebook page.
"Accounts of this incident have circulated on social media with false information and speculation", the department said in its statement Tuesday. All in all I'm happy this little girl is safe though.