Sheriff’s Office opened inquiry on radar guns in January
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office apparently began questioning the legitimacy of its Python Series II radar guns in early January, according to emails between the department and state authorities.
On Jan. 7, LCSO Lt. Dennis Petracca contacted Lt. John Bagnardi, of the Florida Highway Patrol, about the list of speed measuring devices approved by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for use within the state. Petracca explained that the LCSO had been informed that its Python Series II radars were no longer approved instruments and questioned if the devices should be in use.
Bagnardi responded by stating that Petracca’s information appeared correct, adding that he checked an additional listing site for newly approved devices that are not on the first list, but still could not find the Python Series II. Bagnardi goes on to list the approved devices, including the Python and Python IIIs.
On Tuesday, The Wilbur Smith Law Firm filed a class action lawsuit against the LCSO for the use of the “illegal radar gun,” a prepared statement reports. The radar devices have been in use since at least 2004.
Attorney Sawyer Smith, who is handling the case, explained that the firm learned of the problem and started researching it. Using unauthorized devices to find motorists at fault is a violation of rights, he maintains.
“When they are used to determine a speed and that speed determination leads to a traffic stop, it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment,” he said. “It is a violation of civil rights.”
According to the emails, Petracca reports that administrative personnel “requested a confirmation, which you have provided, as they were not aware of a list of approved measuring devices.” Petracca adds that the Python Series II is “an older system” so he understands why it is no longer on the list.
Bagnardi responded that approved older systems do not get removed from the list, just replaced with newer models. He added that he never saw the Python Series II model mentioned “on any lists.”
Petracca replies that the LCSO purchased the last batch in 2004 with Department of Transportation grant funds, “which require the equipment we purchase to be on the state-approved list.”
” … if they are not listed, I’m under the understanding that we should not be using them,” he wrote. “However, as I was just informed, we have approximately 80, which will be a big expense.”
Bagnardi offers to check the files at the general headquarters, writing back:
“I see the approval for the model Python, approved for use Jan. 30, 1995. I see the Python Series III – Fastest Speed, Same Direction – approved July 21, 2005. And, the Python Series III – Standard – also approved July 21, 2005. I see files for 12 other MPH industries radars, but no Python Series II.”
He continues that he can only assume MPH never submitted the Python Series II for approval.
“It never appeared on the state’s approved device list,” Smith said Thursday.
The lawsuit also reports that at the end of March, the LCSO destroyed the purchase orders for the Python Series IIs. Smith noted that there is a five-year window before such records can be destroyed.
“It doesn’t make any sense because these purchases are from 2004,” he said.
The records were held onto for six extra years, but destroyed two months after the emails.
“They have a duty to preserve all the evidence and records surrounding the problem,” Smith said, adding that the problem was never addressed.
“They also have a duty to disclose that.”
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment Thursday on the lawsuit.
“We don’t comment on pending litigation,” a spokeswoman said.
She was unable to confirm if and when the Python Series II radars were taken out of service.
According to Smith, the LCSO removed the devices from use after finding out they were not approved devices.
“This case is about protecting our Constitution and standing up for the rights of citizen in Southwest Florida,” he said.
The firm is seeking damages in connection to the use of the Python Series II radars. It is also asking the court to order the LCSO to cease and desist all use of the devices and to properly train its personnel.
“It is premature to say how many may be affected,” Smith said of drivers who the class action applies to. “I think it’s safe to say there are well over 15,000 drivers that may have been impacted by this.”
Anyone who thinks they may have received an illegal speeding ticket can visit: PythonII.com.
Drivers will enter basic confidential information, which the firm’s team will check for qualification.