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Critic wants Pasco jail's letter ban dropped

Bailiff Karl Crawford fingerprints Daniel Callaghan in 2004 after he was sentenced to 30 days in the Pasco County jail for chaining himself to the road to stop the Chasco Fiesta parade.

EDMUND FOUNTAIN | Times (2004)

Bailiff Karl Crawford fingerprints Daniel Callaghan in 2004 after he was sentenced to 30 days in the Pasco County jail for chaining himself to the road to stop the Chasco Fiesta parade.

DADE CITY — Daniel Callaghan once chained himself to a road to protest white people dressing up like American Indians on a parade float. He went to jail.

His latest cause is on behalf of inmates, specifically the 1,300 locked up in Pasco County whose correspondence from the outside is limited by policy to postcards.

Callaghan, a 68-year-old bookseller, went to court Monday to press his case. He argued for what he called fundamental constitutional rights.

He quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes and two other Supreme Court justices on matters of free speech. He provided the judge with a letter he had written to an inmate and then copied onto postcards — seven of them — to illustrate the impracticality.

"It's not a substitute for a letter," he told the judge.

Pasco Sheriff Bob White's attorneys took a less colorful approach. They cited arcane civil court rules. Formal discovery, legal standing, that sort of thing.

And at least for a day, arcane won.

Callaghan sued the Pasco County Sheriff's Office last year after it prohibited inmates from receiving letters in envelopes. Jail officials cited cost and security concerns. They said envelopes had been used to hide drugs.

Callaghan had spent a month in pod A-600 at the jail in Land O'Lakes over Christmas 2008 — four years after New Port Richey police arrested him for obstructing the annual Chasco Fiesta parade, a west Pasco celebration of American Indian culture. He lost at trial and went to jail after exhausting all appeals.

On Monday, Callaghan was back availing himself of the justice system, this time as a plaintiff in a tweed coat. A small gallery of supporters sat behind him snapping pictures.

The issue at hand: a motion by the Sheriff's Office to dismiss his lawsuit.

Richard Corcoran, a Sheriff's Office attorney, complimented Callaghan's efforts — terming them exemplary — but said Callaghan had failed to provide a sufficient basis for his claim.

Corcoran asked Circuit Judge Susan Gardner to "procedurally dismiss" the suit. He did not get into the substance of the mail policy.

Jail officials have said that their resources are taxed by having to inspect each piece of mail, not only for off-limits content like escape plans, but also for contraband. And if a letter sender sneaks powder into an envelope, a hazardous materials team has to come in and seal off the room until they can determine the nature of the substance.

Pasco's position is being considered in other jurisdictions. Manatee and Lee counties already have similar policies, and Hillsborough County jail officials are looking into a postcard-only policy.

"I can tell you that it does cut down tremendously on the amount of contraband coming into the jail system, such as drugs and those kinds of things. And it is just an easier process to deal with when you only have postcards instead of letters and other items," said Maj. Curtis Flowers, commander of Hillsborough's jail division.

Callaghan used Monday's hearing to attack these arguments. He said the ban on letters in envelopes is "an exaggerated response to an imagined, fabricated security issue, and it is clearly overreaching."

Gardner granted the motion to dismiss, but she took extra time to explain her ruling and gave Callaghan 30 days to fix what was wrong and refile his lawsuit.

He has to explain his standing in a short and concise paragraph, no more than 10 pages of argument, she said. He has to articulate what relief he seeks.

Callaghan, a nonlawyer representing himself, said he thinks he has done all that already. But he said he'll comply with the judge's instructions and be back in about a month.

Times staff writer Shelley Rossetter contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Critic wants Pasco jail's letter ban dropped 04/12/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 12, 2010 11:21pm]
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