LAND O'LAKES — He didn't think it was strange the deputy told him to take off his shirt. David Wilson was so angry he would have taken off all his clothes, whirled his jeans and T-shirt around the jail and sat for his mug shot in the nude if he'd been asked. He didn't care. Also, he'd been drinking a little. The 62-year-old had just been arrested on a charge of domestic battery and, on the afternoon of Jan. 4, was being booked into the Pasco County jail.
His son's fiancee said he pushed her. Wilson swears he didn't.
He was about to have his mug shot taken.
"Do you have any tattoos?" a deputy asked.
"No," Wilson said.
"Would you remove your shirt, please?" the deputy asked, according to Wilson.
"Sure," he said.
He took it off.
The deputy snapped his photo.
"Okay, thank you," the deputy said, Wilson recalled.
"Put your shirt back on."
That day, Wilson was one of 50 people arrested and booked into the Pasco County jail — 36 men, 14 women.
Of those 36 men, 10 of them were photographed shirtless.
On the previous day, there were 32 men arrested. Fifteen were shirtless.
The topless quotient varied — 23 percent on Jan. 5, 55 percent on Feb. 23 — but the steady stream of nakedness made people wonder:
Why are there so many shirtless mug shots in Pasco?
• • •
There are no shirtless mugs in Hillsborough.
"If they come into booking and they do not have a shirt, they are provided with a temporary smock," said Debbie Carter, Hillsborough County Sheriff's spokeswoman.
There are no shirtless mugs in Pinellas.
"They are provided a shirt," said Cecilia Barreda, Pinellas County sheriff's spokeswoman. Barreda said people waiting to be booked are put together in an open waiting area, so the shirtless are clothed for "hygiene, security and safety reasons."
There appear to be no shirtless mugs in Hernando.
"Do you see any?" asked Sgt. Donna Black, Hernando County sheriff's spokeswoman.
So, given that the number of shirtless mug shots in surrounding counties appears to be zero, that leads us back to this:
What's going on in Pasco?
Are there really that many half-naked lawless men roaming the streets?
As it turns out, the answer is no.
• • •
Sure, some of these chest-baring men might have been arrested without a shirt. But many of them appeared to have been like Wilson — fully clothed and asked to take off their shirts for their mug shots.
Ryan Hand thought he was asked to remove his shirt for his photo after a Jan. 7 DUI arrest because of the tattoo on his chest: the serenity prayer, above his heart. It's his second DUI arrest in Pasco. "I drink a lot," said Hand, 23.
All inmates wear their ID badges on their uniforms. He noticed his cell mate was half-nude in his photo, too.
"I told him, 'They made you take your shirt off, too? But you ain't got no chest tattoos,' " Hand said.
"I thought that was kind of weird, man."
The flood of shirtless photos was a "staff error," said Lt. Barbara Taylor, who is in charge of booking at the jail. She said the inmates should have been photographed in their street clothes because these pictures are kept indefinitely and used for photo lineups.
Taylor said a possible reason for asking them to remove their shirts might have been to search for and photograph tattoos, which are important: Tattoos can identify not only criminal suspects but also gang members. And you don't want rival gang members housed together.
But those photos are supposed to be kept in-house, not displayed on the Sheriff's Office public website. One time, a man's public mug shot was only of his chest — no head, no neck, just a close up of his torso, pale with "Born to Live" tattooed above his right breast and "Live to Love" above his left, a small patch of black hair in between. That also was an error, Taylor said, and fixed as soon as it was noticed.
But even if inmates take off their shirts to have tattoos photographed, their public mug shots "should be in whatever they have on" when they are arrested, Taylor said.
If what they are wearing is offensive, profane or, in the case of women, too revealing, they are covered up with a hospital gown.
"We are never going to do anything to embarrass an individual," Taylor said. "We wouldn't want that out there for them to be ridiculed in any way."
Booking can be a violent, dangerous and hectic job. Inmates sometimes try to smuggle drugs and weapons inside the jail. They can be high or drunk or psychotic, wanting to fight and cry and hurt themselves. They've got new wounds and old wounds, blood covered clothes, blackened bandages. Gangrene. They urinate and defecate and throw up on themselves and others. Deputies often get kicked, punched and bitten. One deputy recently had chunks of her hair ripped out by an inmate who, until that split second, seemed to have calmed.
It is a busy place.
Taylor said she had not been looking at the mug shots. She found out about the high number of shirtless mug shots last week after a media inquiry. She had a meeting with her shift supervisors to remind them of protocol, she said.
It's been addressed, she said.
Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said the agency is in the process of revising its mug shot procedure.
Although if arrestees "come in shirtless, they may be photographed that way," Doll said.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.