LARGO — Arrested for driving a stolen Chevrolet Tahoe in Clearwater, Joseph Bravo Ramos was being booked into the Pinellas County jail when deputies asked him to step on a full-body scanner.
The scanner, designed to find contraband on detainees, typically detects weapons, pills and drugs.
But last Thursday, the X-ray scan revealed something detention deputies had not seen before: two necklaces coiled into a ball inside Ramos' midsection.
Ramos admitted he swallowed the jewelry, which detectives determined had been stolen, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.
"We've detected contraband of sorts," said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "But nothing like this."
On Dec. 10, a burglary was reported at a home on Palmetto Drive in Safety Harbor. No one was home, but several items were taken, including necklaces and the Tahoe.
The following day about 10:40 p.m., Clearwater officers stopped Ramos for reckless driving in the 2200 block of Nursery Road. During the traffic stop, they discovered the 2005 Tahoe had been reported stolen.
Ramos was taken to the Pinellas County jail on charges of grand theft and driving without a valid license. Officers also cited him for reckless driving, Clearwater police said.
But when Ramos was screened by the Sheriff's Office's SecurPass X-Ray, deputies saw a "large dark mass" near his stomach, the Sheriff's Office said.
Deputies analyzed the scan and realized the mass was actually two necklaces. They questioned Ramos, who confirmed he had swallowed them.
Concerned the chains could cause "significant health issues" for Ramos, doctors at Northside Hospital decided to surgically remove them, Gualtieri said. If not for the medical concerns, the Sheriff's Office might have opted to "let nature take its course" instead, he added.
Doctors removed the two yellow-gold chains from Ramos on Thursday and he was returned to the jail the same day.
After the surgery, detectives showed the chains to the burglary victim, who identified them. The victim's name and full address were not disclosed by the Sheriff's Office Monday because the case remains open.
It is unclear when Ramos swallowed the jewelry, valued at about $450.
Gualtieri said Ramos' case may be the first time the SecurPass scanner has provided evidence linking an inmate to a crime other than bringing in contraband.
"It goes to show the length people will go to hide the evidence," he said. "Without us having implemented this, the chance of recovering this property is probably slim to none."
In June, the scanner was installed in the jail's booking area. All detainees booked into the jail are screened by the full-body scanner, which detects metals, plastics and drugs.
SecurPass takes eight seconds to perform a scan that gives jail staff a 360-degree view. Once the scan is complete, it is examined by a deputy on a computer screen.
Ramos, of 2225 Nursery Road in Clearwater, has been screened before. In August, he was arrested for marijuana possession, but the charge was later dropped, state records show.
He has other arrests dating back to 2010, with convictions on charges of vehicle grand theft and burglary.
Now, he faces additional charges of burglary and tampering with physical evidence.
Ramos remained in the Pinellas County jail Monday in lieu of $15,250 bail.
Times staff researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157.