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Calling the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for help leads to social media humiliation, woman says

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office wrote a Facebook post on Thursday about a woman who needed help to prevent a thermos she was using for artificial insemination from exploding. She said she was mortified that the sheriff's post had enough information for people to figure out who she was. [Facebook]
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office wrote a Facebook post on Thursday about a woman who needed help to prevent a thermos she was using for artificial insemination from exploding. She said she was mortified that the sheriff's post had enough information for people to figure out who she was. [Facebook]
Published May 20, 2017

NEW PORT RICHEY — Felicia Nevins and her husband have been trying to conceive a child for three years now. They decided to try artificial insemination — something she had yet to tell her own family about.

But now, she said, everyone knows — thanks to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

"I didn't want any of this," she said.

The Sheriff's Office wrote on its official Facebook about a recent mishap she had while trying to store sperm in a thermos with dry ice. By forgetting to remove a rubber O-ring, the container could have exploded.

Nevins said she called the Sheriff's Office non-emergency line for help at 6 p.m. Wednesday. A deputy and firefighters arrived, she said, took the thermos away and safely opened it. They were kind, she said, and left without telling her nosy neighbors what happened.

"The officer told them it was a private matter," Nevins said, "and he treated it as a private matter."

The Sheriff's Office, she complained, did not. The agency on Thursday posted a short explanation of what happened on its Facebook page using a stock photo of a woman with a disgusted expression.

The post didn't use Nevins' name, but she said there were enough details — her age, location and time of the incident — for reporters and curious citizens to figure out who she was by searching public records.

That night, a TV news crew appeared on her doorstep with a camera. She spoke to them, but declined to identify herself. She said she spoke to the Tampa Bay Times on the record Friday because her name is "already out there."

The sheriff's Facebook post was shared more than 200 times by Friday. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has said it's all part of its social media strategy.

"We attempt to show every day what our officers see in calls and we are a very open agency about the types of calls we see each day," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said in a statement. "This was a very unique call faced by our officers as well as Pasco fire fighters ... make no mistake, this was a potentially dangerous situation ... we are grateful that no damage was done."

The Sheriff's Office later released this statement: "As unusual as this situation was, it was important to provide this type of safety information contained in the post. We always encourage everyone to contact us if they find themselves in a position where they need help.

"In these types of situations, we never publicly release names or identifying information. Unfortunately, this information was obtained through a public records request of our reports and was published by the media."

Nevins, 26, said she was upset the post was not removed Friday. A sheriff's spokeswoman said the agency doesn't delete comments on social media.

The comments on this Facebook post were, as usual, unkind. Some wrote that if Nevins can't follow directions, she shouldn't have a baby. Others made fun of what happened and accused her of wanting money from the county. Others were demeaning.

Many also sided with her, and wrote that the post should be removed.

"All I'm trying to do is become a mother and I'm being berated for it," Nevins said.

Social media has become another tool for law enforcement to announce news and seek information about crimes. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is the most prolific bay area law enforcement agency on social media, often posting body camera footage of deputies arresting people and even nightly warning for folks to lock their doors after 9 p.m.

The Pasco agency has just over 87,000 followers on Facebook — more than the followers of the Pinellas and Hillsborough Sheriff's Offices combined. But Pasco's social media presence has come with controversy.

In November, some accused the agency of crossing the line when it posted a photo to Facebook and Twitter of a man in handcuffs, weeping, as deputies held his head back by grabbing his dreadlocks. The post was entitled: "SAD CRIMINAL OF THE DAY."

READ MORE: As its social media grows, Pasco Sheriff's Office posts photo of man crying after his arrest

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has gained 10,000 followers since then.

Nevins said the agency could have used social media to warn people about the dangers of dry ice without including details of her personal life — which also resulted in medical information being disclosed. Now she said she feels ashamed and embarrassed.

"I don't see the comedy in it," she said.

All she can do about is unfollow the Pasco County Sheriff's Office on Facebook: "I'm not going to support a Sheriff's Office that thinks it's okay to belittle their community."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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