(The Newspaper) For most speeding tickets, the readout of a laser or radar device provides the only evidence of an offense. In Lee County, Florida, officials cannot prove that those readouts are accurate. As a result, Lee County and other jurisdictions throughout the state face the potential for substantial refunds from a federal class action lawsuit filed last week.
The suit seeks to force Lee County to pay back all the revenue collected by sheriff’s deputies using the Python II radar system over the past eleven years. Florida law mandates that law enforcement use only devices approved by the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and “Python II” does not appear on the approved equipment list.
According to the lawsuit, this particular model could never be approved because its beam spread is 15 degrees, much wider than the 12 degree maximum allowed under state regulations. A wider beam makes it more likely that the device will return the speed a nearby vehicle, resulting in an erroneous reading.
“Such illegal use of the Python II device has caused thousands of people to be unlawfully detained/seized and improperly charged with speeding, failure to obey a traffic signal and other civil and criminal offenses,” attorney Sawyer C. Smith wrote in the class action complaint. “When the sheriff became aware that the illegal Python II devices had been used, instead of making a public service announcement to assist the class members with redressing the wrongs, the sheriff intentionally destroyed the purchase records of the Python II devices.”
The lawsuit alleges that Sheriff Mike Scott got rid of the eleven-year-old Python II purchase records in March, as soon as he learned that the devices were unapproved.
“The destruction of the evidence is, in itself, evidence of the sheriff’s intent to violate the civil rights of the class members and to conceal the illegal use of the Python devices,” Smith explained.
The lawsuit seeks not only a refund of the tickets, but also the loss from insurance points, lost wages and other damages that have accrued. Motorists cited or arrested for other offenses after being stopped in a Python II speed trap could also seek to have their convictions overturned.
MPH Industries, manufacturer of the Python, insists the state’s listing for “Python” on the approved radar list applies to the Python II, which the firm says is essentially the same as the Python I.
“The listing of the product on the Florida approved list was not changed,” MPH President John Broxon wrote last month in a letter to the Florida Highway Patrol. “It was generically left as Python, because the operational differences were contained in the two remote controls, which did not change during the production of the Python radar apart from their connectors.”
The Wilbur Smith Law Firm, which is handling the case, believes sheriff’s offices in DeSoto, Jacksonville and Santa Rosa Counties, along with the police department in Orlando, have also used the Python II.