Florida sheriff sued over program that ‘predicts’ crime

Author: Associated Press
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. (CBS photo)
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. (CBS photo)

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has called on Florida’s governor to remove a sheriff who was sued this week by four residents claiming an intelligence program run by the top cop’s agency violated their constitutional rights.

In a tweet on Thursday, Gaetz, a Republican congressman from the Florida Panhandle, said Gov. Ron DeSantis had the authority to remove Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and should consider doing so.

“I don’t care that this is being done by a GOP Sheriff,” Gaetz said in the tweet. “Its awful to harass citizens because you think they may commit crimes, hoping to make their lives miserable.’

The intelligence program run by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office uses arrest histories and information from police reports to determine which residents are most likely to break the law. Deputies then make repeated visits to those individuals’ homes, even when there is no warrant or evidence of a crime, according to an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times.

Four Pasco County residents on Wednesday sued the sheriff, saying they were harassed, fined and even arrested by overzealous deputies who overstepped their bounds. They asked a judge to end the program.

“The goal here is to shut this program down and to make sure it stops, both for these clients and everybody in Pasco County,” said Robert Johnson, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Amanda Hunter, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman, said in response to the lawsuit, “We look forward to defending any lawsuits in which we may be named in the proper venue and will not be party to litigation via the media.”

The agency has previously said it stands behind its intelligence program and credited it with a reduction in burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts over the last decade. The decline mirrors those in nearby police jurisdictions, according to the Times.

The Times’ investigation revealed that deputies surrounded targets’ homes in the middle of the night. On others, they wrote or threatened to write code enforcement citations for minor infractions like overgrown grass. One former deputy said the objective was to make peoples’ lives miserable.

“The behavior of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is outrageous,” said Ari Bargil, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm representing the plaintiffs. “There’s no such thing as innocent until predicted guilty and that’s exactly how the program operates.”

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