Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

New Hillsborough program enables minor offenders to avoid criminal record

TAMPA — Jamie Stewart still doesn’t know why she did it.

Last month, the 26-year-old pregnant mother of two found herself in the cosmetics aisle of a Brandon Walmart. She slipped some nail polish into her bag, then went to a register, paid for some other items and tried to leave.

Moments later, she was face to face with a Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy, wondering how she would explain her arrest to her family and boss. But then the deputy explained that a new program for first-time offenders like her would allow her to avoid an arrest.

"My life could have gone down the drain for something stupid I decided to do," Stewart said.

Starting today, many adults like Stewart facing arrest for minor crimes in Hillsborough County may avoid a trip to jail and a blemish on their records.

Hillsborough County officials on Wednesday announced the countywide launch of the Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion Program, created for offenders who would otherwise be charged with misdemeanors such as drug possession or shoplifting.

The goal, officials say, is to avoid saddling people with a criminal record and further clogging the criminal justice system.

"The reality is, people make mistakes," Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said. "By providing this opportunity for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders, these adults within our community will be able to maintain gainful employment, provide for their families and remain productive citizens without being saddled with a criminal record."

The Sheriff’s Office launched the program in pilot form in July. Now, every law enforcement agency in the county will participate, including police departments in Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace and at the University of South Florida and Tampa International Airport.

Pinellas County launched its own APAD program in October 2016. Officials there have called it a success, with 1,851 participants logged in through last week.

Hillsborough’s program is available for all but 17 misdemeanor offenses or county ordinances. The exceptions include battery, driving under the influence and lewd and lascivious acts.

Before making an arrest, law enforcement officers in the field check a suspect’s criminal record to make sure they’re eligible. Participants must have no prior DUI conviction, no previous felony arrests and no misdemeanor arrests in the prior two years.

They are not eligible if they have already participated in the APAD within the previous two years or more than twice in their lives. People who live outside the county are eligible.

Those who qualify must register for the program within three business days of their arrest and complete the requirements within 120 days. Requirements vary by offense, but all participants must complete 16 hours of community service. Other potential requirements include restitution, a letter of apology to the victim and completion of educational courses such as anger management or substance-abuse awareness.

If the offender does not complete the requirements, authorities could issue a warrant for the original charge. If an offender is arrested again while in the program, the original case will be sent to the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office for review.

During the pilot program, 215 adults participated and 112 of them, or 52 percent, successfully completed the program, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Of the total, 37 cases, or 17 percent, were referred to the State Attorney’s Office, and 66 participants are still active in the program.

A "large majority" of the pilot cases involved misdemeanor marijuana possession, with shoplifting offenses "running a close second," Chronister said.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren and Public Defender Julianne Holt said the program will free up resources in their offices to focus on more serious offenders.

Holt said she was excited for would-be defendants who won’t be burdened with the financial toll and societal stigma that comes with even minor arrests. Now, she said, these offenders won’t have an online mug shot lingering for the rest of their lives.

Stewart, the mother caught shoplifting, is now free and clear. And thankful.

By the end of January, she had completed her community service and a four-hour online course on theft.

"I feel like I have a second chance at life."

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

Comments
Zero Bucs players on NFL top 100 list for 2018

Zero Bucs players on NFL top 100 list for 2018

Just to preface this, the NFL Network's annual countdown of the league's top 100 players is a made-for-TV deal, good for summer offseason conversation but not carrying any huge amount of real significance.Having said that, it's worth noting that for ...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Hernando County Animal Services searching for pet owners after Brooksville seizure

Hernando County Animal Services searching for pet owners after Brooksville seizure

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Animal Services is looking for the owners of dogs and cats that were seized from a Brooksville home last week.Animal Services, along with the Sheriff’s Office, removed 60 dogs and 23 cats from Carol Allard, 71, after...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sign to report employees not speaking English at doughnut shop creates a stir

Sign to report employees not speaking English at doughnut shop creates a stir

A sign asking customers at a Dunkin’ Donuts store in Baltimore to report employees who were heard not speaking English has set off a controversy.The sign, according tothe Baltimore Sun, would offer coupons to customers who reported workers at a dough...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

SAFETY HARBOR — When Fire Chief Joe Accetta started working at the Safety Harbor Fire Department, Fire Station 53 was a double wide in the middle of a field now home to Mease Countryside Hospital.Now almost four decades of challenges and promotions l...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Deputies were searching for suspects Tuesday after troubled rapper-singer XXXTentacion was fatally shot in the driver’s seat of a luxury electric sports car. The 20-year-old rising star, who pronounced his stage name "Ex Ex Ex...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Brooksville man convicted of murder awaits possible death sentence

Brooksville man convicted of murder awaits possible death sentence

BROOKVILLE — Although he was convicted last week on first-degree murder charges, George Mason III will wait nearly two months to find out whether he will face death for the crimes.The fate of the 47-year-old Brooksville man — found guilty by a jury o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Big Ten reaps recruiting bounty in Tampa Bay

Big Ten reaps recruiting bounty in Tampa Bay

Largo High defensive back Solomon Brown had plenty of college options with offers from 20 Division I-A schools. Still, the three-star recruit did not need to go through a prolonged process to figure out where he wanted to go.Two weeks ago, Brown comm...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Fixing giant Pasco County sinkhole won’t mean a larger neighborhood lake

Fixing giant Pasco County sinkhole won’t mean a larger neighborhood lake

NEW PORT RICHEY – Pasco County is pulling the plug on the idea of connecting a giant sinkhole to a nearby lake in Land O’Lakes.Tuesday morning, commissioners, with little comment, agreed to abandon extending Lake Saxon within the Lake Padgett Estate...
Updated: 2 hours ago