The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has spent over $32,000 in an attempt to stop videos that show deputies abusing an incarcerated man from becoming public.
Video obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU) shows PCSO deputies slamming William Tide to the ground at the Land O'Lakes Detention Center during two different incidents on Nov. 17, 2017.
Tide was taken to a hospital after the assaults, and CT scans found that he suffered a fractured rib.
After Tide filed a complaint about the incident with PCSO, the ACLU requested the video. PCSO refused to comply with the request over the past several years, so in February, ACLU filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's department.
But in August, a Pasco County judge ruled against PCSO's attempt to block the videos, which were shared with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay by the ACLU.
In one video, PCSO Deputy Christopher Eason jumps over a counter, grabs Tide by the collar, and slams him to the ground. Tide is handcuffed on the ground and left face down for several minutes. At one point, he's surrounded by seven PCSO deputies who are meandering around him before picking him up.
Another video, from just a couple of hours later on the same day, shows deputies escorting Tide down a hallway when he seemingly stops walking to communicate with them. A deputy suddenly grabs him and slams him to the ground. Another deputy places his knee into Tide's midsection for a couple of minutes while he lays face down.
“Patient states that he was assaulted while in police custody kneed in the back and hit in the back of the head," a medical statement quoted in court documents said.
Tide, who is now at Liberty Correctional Institution near Tallahassee, only named Deputy Eason in his complaint against PCSO. The Tampa Bay Times found that Eason didn't wear his required N-95 mask during 17 shifts in 2020 as COVID-19 raged inside the Land O' Lakes Detention Center. Tide did not name the other deputies involved in the second incident.
Court documents show that Tide also complained to PCSO about being sexually assaulted by another inmate, and ACLU requested a third section of video footage that might have confirmed Tide's claims. But the court denied the request for that video, because the time frame of the video requested raised security concerns.
"The Court finds there is 'good cause' to overcome the exemptions under Florida's Public Records Act for the first incident and the second incident, but not the multi-hour video of the housing unit during the time period of the alleged sexual assault," a court document reads.
Court documents shows that PCSO Major Stacey Jenkins defended the video from being released.
"Disclosure of surveillance video from the Detention Center, including the surveillance
video which is that issue in the pending public records litigation, would reveal the
PCSO's surveillance techniques, procedures, and personnel, and would compromise the security of the facility, as well as the security of Correctional Officers whose job is to protect inmates," Jenkins wrote.
After this story was published, PCSO responded to say that after ACLU requested the footage and was denied by the sheriff, they had no further contact with the civil rights group until the lawsuit was filed in February.
"It is important to note the ACLU did not challenge that the videos were confidential and exempt from release under Florida law, but rather alleged a 'good cause' exception seeking their release which can only be done by a Court order," PCSO wrote in an email. "The Court noted that even if the ACLU had shown 'good cause,' it did not outweigh the security concerns of releasing a multi-hour long video depicting a large area where inmates are housed."
PCSO said that ACLU's original request resulted in "a few small portions consisting of only approximately 10 minutes of video footage from seven hours of video footage" originally requested. The agency also noted that the Court did not determine if there was excessive force involved in the incident.
"The Pasco Sheriff’s Office is committed to transparency, but is also bound to follow the laws of Florida," PCSO wrote.
"Our hope—by releasing this footage—is to compel PCSO and other law-enforcement agencies across the state to release video footage that captures uses of force or alleged police misconduct quickly and automatically and to end systemic abuse against people detained in prisons and jails across the state at the hands of law enforcement," ACLU wrote in an email.
The group mentioned that the costs for the public might get even higher, because court costs still have to be paid and there's a hearing next week on whether or not PCSO will be made to pay those costs.
This incident is just one of several disturbing scenarios coming from the Pasco County Sheriff. In 2016, a Pasco deputy slapped an inmate, and another fired a non-lethal round pointblank at an inmate who was not complying to commands from within his cell.
The department also famously targeted, tracked and harassed schoolchildren because of their grades, leading to multiple lawsuits and a Pulitzer for the Tampa Bay Times.
This year, PCSO also went viral on TikTok after attempting to evict people at the wrong house.