Eleven youths who were charged with under-age drinking at a large beer party last summer got a reprieve Wednesday afternoon.
Pasco County Judge Marc Salton declared a mistrial after a Pasco County Sheriff's Office deputy testified he had arrested eight of the youths previously. The defendants' criminal histories were inadmissible in the trial, Salton said.
The youths were arrested in a raid of a beer bash at a home on Ridge Road in New Port Richey last July. For $3 each, party-goers had access to a large supply of beer.
About 225 people went to the private party. Deputies arrested 63 of them on charges including under-age drinking. Nineteen were under age 18.
Most of those arrested were either released or reached a plea agreement, said defense attorney Steve Booth, who represents eight of the youths. Booth and Gary Davis, who represents the other three youths, say their clients were the victims of an overreaching Sheriff's Office sweep.
"They were caught up in the sweep like a tuna net," Booth said.
During jury selection that morning, some of the potential jurors said the state was wasting time with the trial.
"I just don't understand why we're here," one potential juror said. "They are kids. I don't think I couldn't pick out anyone in this room who hasn't done it. I've done it. My kids have done it."
That man was excused from jury duty.
Assistant State Attorney Serbo Simeoni said that despite what people might think of the charges, if the evidence shows these youths were drinking and breaking the law, they should be found guilty.
"You can't feel sorry for them," Simeoni said. "You can't say, well I did it."
The trial has been rescheduled for March 16.
The party allegedly was given by Brian Scott Sells at his Ridge Road home. Both Sells and the accused gatekeeper were charged with allowing an open house party where minors were drinking and with conspiracy to violate beverage law.
Another man was charged with conspiracy to violate beverage laws for allegedly directing cars at the party. Disposition of the charges was unknown Wednesday.