A federal judge dealt a blow to Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco’s Orwellian “predictive policing” program. Judge Steven D. Merryday issued an order denying the Sheriff’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a group of residents targeted by the county’s controversial practice of identifying and harassing supposed “future criminals”—including kids under the age of 18.
Today’s ruling means that the county’s efforts to have the case thrown out have failed and the plaintiffs will have their day in court.
“Today’s decision is an important step toward the ultimate dismantling of the program,” said Ari Bargil, an attorney at the Institute for Justice (IJ), which represents the plaintiffs. “By rejecting the PCSO’s attempt to have the case thrown out, the judge signaled that the plaintiffs’ claims are meritorious and that a full inquiry into the constitutional legitimacy of the program is necessary. We look forward to proving up our claims in the weeks and months to come.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in March 2021, seeks to end the county’s dystopian “predictive policing” program once and for all. As an award-winning Tampa Bay Times investigation uncovered, under the program, deputies regularly show up at the homes of targeted individuals unannounced and demand entry. If they or their parents don’t cooperate, deputies write tickets for petty violations, like missing house numbers or having grass that is too tall. As one former Pasco County deputy put it, they were under orders to “make their lives miserable until they move or sue.” The program was in the headlines once again last week, after it was revealed that the PCSO sent bizarre letters to those targeted under the program to “congratulate” them for their inclusion.
“The Pasco Sheriff’s Office has appointed itself judge, jury, and executioner in the lives of its residents, punishing alleged future criminals for hypothetical crimes that have not been committed,” said IJ Senior Attorney Rob Johnson. “Today’s decision means the Sheriff is going to have to justify that behavior before a real judge.”