PASCO, Fla. (WFLA) – For the fourth time in about 18 months Pasco County’s Sheriff is named in a civil lawsuit aimed at his intelligence led policing program.
The most recent complaint against Sheriff Christopher Nocco filed by three civil rights groups on behalf of the Council on American Islamic Relations Florida (CAIR-FL) calls the decade-old program “predictive policing.”
The lawsuit alleges the county is violating Florida public records law by not releasing basic information, according to Miami-based Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Sam Boyd.
“The sheriff’s department is collating lists of children that it believes are likely to commit crimes,” Boyd said. “But it refuses to answer basic questions about those lists, including the demographics and that’s info the public has a right to know.”
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Amanda Hunter would not provide Nocco or anyone else from his office for an interview about either ILP or the lawsuits. In a statement, she said “it is disappointing that groups continue to assert that PSO engages in “predictive policing” techniques.”
“As has been provided to numerous groups, media entities and more, PSO does not have any techniques or programs that constitute predictive policing,” Hunter said.
In addition to CAIR’s case, three other lawsuits have been filed since March last year.
The first one was leveled by the parents of an alleged target on the Pasco Prolific Offender List, compiled using crime data connected to residents. Robert Jones III told 8 On Your Side that “harassment” from deputies was consistent.
“They came every single day,” Jones said.
Rachele Wilburn made similar allegations in a lawsuit she filed last year. She was arrested for minor offenses including not having numbers on her mailbox, a charge that links a number of ILP cases.
The charges were dropped before Wilburn filed her lawsuit, but the veteran with no criminal record still spent time in jail.
“To be put in a cell for three hours?” Wilburn said, fighting back tears. “Three hours. I felt so disgusted and so disrespected.”
Eileen Kates filed a lawsuit in February claiming the sheriff’s office harassed her with “warrantless searches” and minor offenses including another charge of “lack of proper numbering” on her home.
Kates alleges her son was also on the “prolific offender list” due to his criminal record.
Wilburn has since settled her lawsuit, but the others remain active.
Alaizah Koorji of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the CAIR complaint alleges in part that Nocco is unfairly citing an exemption for active investigations, even though the organization’s public records requests sought basic demographic data.
“That would not reveal the identity of anyone on the list and there’s no way it could identify anyone,” Koorji said. “There’s no way it could interfere with an active prosecution or arrest on the list because it’s anonymous.”
The Southern Legal Council is the third civil rights organization involved in CAIR’s lawsuit.
Hunter said the county is prepared to defend its program.
“We look forward to vigorously defending these allegations in the proper venue, as we have successfully done with other similarly positioned suits,” Hunter said.
8 On Your Side has filed a public records request for the cost to Pasco county taxpayers for defending the complaints.
A review of Pasco crime data since ILP was first put into action a decade ago, indicates overall the crime rate is down by just under 50%. But violent crime is up about 16% percent and domestic violence was up by about 38% during that period.