HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office
Sheriffs of Pasco County
Some dates in this list may be approximate. Some early sheriffs apparently took office in the odd numbered year following the election. Grady, Gaines (in 1963), Phillips, and Nocco (in 2011) were appointed officials.
Some of the information used in this article and some of the photos above were taken from the former web site of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department. This page was last revised on April 28, 2018.
James A. Grady was the first Pasco County sheriff, taking office when the county was created in 1887. He was not an elected official, as the original Pasco County officials were either appointed by the Governor or named by the county commissioners. Grady’s gravemarker in the Dade City Cemetery indicates he died at age 36 on Dec. 27, 1890, which was probably just before the end of his term. A contemporary newspaper account says that he died on Christmas Eve 1890 at his home in Dade City.
The first and second lynchings in Pasco County history occurred in Dec. 1887. Two black men, Dick Hines and Charley Metz, were reported to have confessed to having assaulted two women, but were quickly hanged by vigilantes. (A newspaper article on Dec. 20, 1887, reported that word had just reached Dade City that two negroes were caught and lynched. The article claimed that two other negroes said to have been involved in the crime “are said to have shared a like fate” earlier, and that three more negroes involved were yet to be found.)
The second sheriff, Simeon J. O’Dell, was the first elected sheriff in Pasco County. (He is referred to as Samuel O’Dell in a 1913 newspaper article which reported that he, then a night watchman in Tampa, was injured in a fall.)
Before the first jail was built, prisoners were housed in jails in nearby counties, usually at the jail in Bartow.
County commission minutes from April 22, 1889, have:
On motion it was agreed, we examine all the bonds filed for building a courthouse and jail. The following bonds were presented, opened and read. J. L. Carkson (sic) Urbana, a bond of $6,000; Dade City, a bond of $6,000; Pasadena, draft of $6,000; P. A. Deweus (sic), Gladston, our obligation of $500 to better any place and specifications.
County commission minutes from Sept. 8, 1890, have:
On motion the following resolution for bonding the county was made and adopted as follows, “Whereas it is evident that the sum of $6,000 which the citizens and friends of Dade City are prepared to donate to the county of Pasco for the purpose of building a courthouse and jail in Dade City is totally inadequate to secure the erection of such public buildings as are compatible with the rapidly growing importance of the county as well as to meet the imperative needs of the people, and whereas it is also evident that in order to maintain her prestige and supremacy, Pasco County must keep pace with her sisters in the great march of progress and the incontrovertible fact that nothing will be more detrimental to the interests of every tax payer than the erection of inferior buildings, demands such action on the part of the county commissioners as will best conserve the best interests of the people of the whole county and whereas it is an established precedent in Desoto and other counties in the state to aid and assist public spirited citizens, who proposed to donate certain sums for the purpose of erecting suitable and ... public buildings either by issuing bonds or by levying a special tax to raise funds to supplement private donations and Whereas estimates furnished by skilled architects and builders place the lowest sum adequate to erect such public buildings as the necessities of Pasco County demand at $26,000. Therefore be-it-resolved by the county commissioners of Pasco county that we believe it essential that bonds bearing a reasonable rate of interest should be issued in a series redeemable in 20, 25 and 30 years. Be it further resolved that as the custodians of the welfare of Pasco county and with patriotic desire to conserve the best interests of the citizens by rendering it truly prosperous and great that it is our settled convention that the county should aid the people who donate to such an ex-___ as shall secure for the county a courthouse and jail. That shall be both useful and ornamental and stand as monuments of thrift, the prosperity and public spirit of our people, thus giving a new impetus to every part of the county in an onward and upward march of progress and at the same time create such benefits as....”[The minutes were provided by Madonna Jervis Wise, who in 2014 interviewed Buddy Jones, who has owned the former jail building for 28 years.]
The first jail was built in 1893, according to Mr. Jones. The building, which still exists at the NE corner of 10th Street and Robinson Ave., consisted of two cells plus an isolation cell and an east wing used for the Sheriff’s living quarters. A later addition to the west end was the site of the county’s gallows. Two hangings occurred there.
In the primary election of April 28, 1900, H. C. Griffin defeated B. D. Sturkie, 461-402.
The third and fourth lynchings occurred on Feb. 5, 1901, when a mob, said to have been 30 to 50 men, broke down the outer door of the Dade City jail. Sheriff Griffin refused to give up the keys, and the mob opened fire through the steel bars, shooting two prisoners to death. The prisoners, implicated in a killing, were named Will Wright and Sam Johnson (or Sam Williams). See the Dade City page for more information.
The fifth known lynching in Pasco County occurred on July 29, 1902, in San Antonio. See the San Antonio page for more information.
In 1907 a sheriff’s deputy named Lee Ellis was shot to death at Ehren; the killing was not related to his law enforcement job.
On May 8, 1909, Shelton S. Nicks, who was identified in newspapers both as a Pasco and Hernando deputy, was shot to death at Fivay by a man he was trying to arrest. (See below.)
On May 21, 1913, the first of two legal hangings ever to occur in Pasco County was performed by Sheriff Sturkie. See the Dade City page for more information.
On Oct. 9, 1914, the Dade City Banner reported, “The county jail is being renovated and greatly enlarged. An addition costing about $8,000 is being erected which will increase the cell space to just twice that which it now is.”
The sixth and final lynching in Pasco County occurred in 1915. Late on the night of Aug. 5, 1915, a vigilante mob attacked the jail in Dade City, and took with them a black inmate named Will Leach, who had been charged with attempted rape. Leach was subsequently hanged on an oak tree in Trilby.
[Another lynching may have occurred in 1890 or 1891. On Jan. 8, 1891, the Hartford Courant quoted the Tampa News as reporting, “We understand that the body of a negro man who had been doing some promiscuous shooting, and had threatened to kill some parties, was found hanging to the limb of a tree in Pasco county last Saturday morning.” Another lynching could have occurred in 1916. See the Dade City page for more information.]
In his first six months in office in 1917, Sheriff Hudson raided 164 moonshine stills, according to the recollection of one of his sons. Hudson had campaigned on a promise to put a halt to moonshining in the county.
On Dec. 28, 1917, the second and final legal hanging occurred in Pasco County. See the Dade City page for more information.
On Nov. 7, 1919, the Dade City Banner reported that the county commission approved building an addition to the county jail to comply with state requirements.
In 1920, Sheriff Hudson sought re-election but was defeated in the primary election.
On Aug. 28, 1920, Sheriff Hudson arrested “Uncle” Andy Richardson on a charge of selling intoxicating liquor. He was brought from Lumberton to Dade City but was released without bond. Richardson was said to be 105 years old and a former slave belonging to Henry Hope before the Civil War.
Leland C. Poole recalled in an interview that in the early 1920’s he was the only law enforcement officer west of U. S. 41. He was both a deputy sheriff and a constable.
On Aug. 13, 1921, newspapers reported that Mayor George J. Frese of San Antonio was out on bond pending trial on the charge of violating the liquor law. He was arrested by Sheriff Sturkie, who claimed that Frese was operating a moonshine still on the second floor of his residence, on the most prominent corner in town.
On June 2, 1925, Wolford Young, age 16, was shot and fatally wounded by Deputy Elzey Hudson when he attempted to fire on officers who were attempting to arrest his father, Jim Young, for selling liquor. The killing occurred at Wesley Chapel. The Tampa Morning Tribune reported, “This is the third or fourth alleged dealer in illicit liquor who have been killed by officers in Pasco County this year. Preston Overstreet and Neal Wilson were shot and killed by Deputy Sheriff Carl C. Walker Feb. 25, when they fired at the officer when he attempted to arrest them as they approached a still he was watching in the eastern part of the county. Tuesday night while raiding a still east of Dade City, about twelve miles, Deputy Walker and Samuels fired at the escaping moonshiners when one of their number picked up what they thought to be a gun. Reports, which hit has been impossible to confirm, have been current that one of these men was either killed or concealed in the swamps seriously wounded.”
On Jan. 1, 1926, deputy William O’Berry was shot and killed near Dade City by a man he was attempting to arrest. (See below.)
During the administration of Sheriff O. A. Allen (1936-40), a deputy was sent to a fingerprint school and the office began taking prints of each person arrested. He placed deputies on a salary, rather than paying them fees and commissions. Prisoners worked on roads and also were put to work cutting wood. About $700 worth of wood was given to the county during each year of his administration.
On April 12, 1940, the Dade City Banner reported:
Monday was moving day for the sixteen or more prisoners at the county jail when they were moved from the old jail to the new jail on the second floor of the new addition to the court house. Only the jail part of the addition is complete, this having been rushed to completion because the old jail has been condemned for some time by state officials. The new jail is modern in every way and besides space for as many as sixty prisoners if necessary has a room for the jailer, a kitchen and a laundry room. Side walls on the roof will provide a place for drying clothes without being in view of the street. The new addition to the court house will cost approximately $10,000 when completed and will have on the first floor, additional office space for present crowded offices. A basement for storage of records will be a nice feature of the new building. Offices for the County Agricultural agent are also being prepared in a well lighted part of the basement. Col. Arthur L. Auvil has ably served as chairman of the building project and rendered much valuable assistance. W. B. Madill has been in charge of construction. The work on the court house addition was stopped last week as WPA funds have been exhausted.
A later account reported that the jail in the court house featured 16 two-man cells, two female and two juvenile cells, and a large bull pen holding cell which could hold 20 inmates.
Through the 1940’s the Sheriff’s Office employed fewer than ten personnel, most of those being part-time deputies.
By the 1950’s population growth created the need for several permanent full-time deputies. Sheriff Leslie Bessenger employed Leland Thompson to patrol Dade City and the adjoining areas, Lance Edgeman was responsible for Zephyrhills, and Basil Gaines served the entire remainder of the county westward through Land O’ Lakes to the coastal areas of Hudson, New Port Richey and Holiday.
The sheriff’s web site noted that resident deputies, such as those living and working in the outlying areas as Land O’ Lakes, Hudson and New Port Richey, worked out of their homes. They were on call 24 hours a day, received $350 per week, and had to provide their own patrol vehicle. In fact, deputies were still required to provide a vehicle through the late 1960’s. Resident deputies were dispatched to calls for service from home by their wives, who received $100 per month for this service.
In 1956, for the first time, the Sheriff’s annual budget exceeded $100,000. Sheriff Leslie Bessenger was criticized for what some county leaders characterized as runaway spending in government.
A new court house annex was established in 1961 on Sunset Road in New Port Richey. This building contained cells for twenty inmates, sheriff’s administrative and operations offices, and a west-side communications dispatch center.
In March 1961, seven prisoners escaped from the jail in Dade City after spending three weeks cutting a hole in the steel ceiling.
On May 13, 1961, Sheriff Leslie Bessenger and a jailer, deputy Richard E. (Woody) Johnson, were shot in an attempted jail break in Dade City. Both men survived.
On Oct. 15, 1963, Sheriff Leslie Bessenger resigned to become head of the Citrus Protection Division of Florida Citrus Mutual. Gov. Farris Bryant appointed Basil H. Gaines to replace him. Bessenger was the first Pasco County sheriff to serve more than two terms. Gaines’s father had been a deputy in Pasco County.
When Gaines became sheriff the first time, the department had a total of 14 employees including the sheriff and the dispatcher. (Clyde Hobby wrote on Facebook that he recalled Gaines telling him this in retirement.)
In December 1963, chief deputy Billy Smith, 35, was killed when the small plane he was piloting crashed in the Everglades.
In a Democratic primary election on May 26, 1964, Leland Thompson defeated incumbent Sheriff Gaines. There was no Republican candidate.
In June 1965 Hudson was assigned a deputy sheriff. He was Curtis Kuhn.
In June 1965 Sheriff Thompson said that he had requested funds in next year’s budget to keep the sheriff’s office in west Pasco County open 24 hours per day. At that time, the building was closed at night and calls went to the New Port Richey police department. On July 31, 1965, the St. Petersburg Times reported that the West Pasco County Sheriff’s office will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, beginning Sunday.
Basil Gaines, the son of the former sheriff with the same name, recalled that his father obtained the first helicopter for the sheriff’s department. His father and Archie Boyd went to Arizona to get the helicopter and drove it back to Pasco County on the back of a flatbed truck.
In 1966, new jails were built on both sides of the county. The Sheriff’s Office in Dade City moved from the historic Courthouse to its own building on North 5th Street. Administration, Operations and Detention were incorporated in this building, and 124 inmates could be housed in the facility. The New Port Richey facility, which included a court house, had a pair of two-man cells and a 16-man holding cell.
In July 1966, Sheriff Thompson said that he hoped to have 60 cars in operation under the new budget. At this time, deputies furnished their own vehicles and were reimbursed at $100 per month plus $100 per year for tires. The sheriff’s office paid for auto electrical repairs but no other mechanical expenses.
By 1977 the sheriff’s department had grown in size to 210 employees, with 135 of those being sworn deputies.
In 1981 a new Sheriff’s Office facility was built in the Pasco County Government Center on Little Road in New Port Richey. Attached to the Sheriff’s Office Administration Center was the West Side Jail, designed to house 106 male, female and juvenile inmates.
On March 11, 1982, Sheriff John Short temporarily closed the year-old jail in New Port Richey, stating that inmates could easily escape through a crawl space between a false ceiling and the roof of the building. To demonstrate for reporters the ease of escape, a deputy placed in a cell freed himself in four minutes using only his hands.
On Aug. 24, 1984, John Short, who had been sheriff since 1976, was indicted on three corruption charges and was removed from office by the Governor, who appointed J. M. “Buddy” Phillips to replace him. In a series of articles, the St. Petersburg Times had reported that John Moorman, a millionaire who contributed thousands of dollars to Short and enriched the sheriff through business deals, was allowed to outfit himself as a volunteer deputy and help pay for an undercover investigation aimed at several prominent East Pasco men who had earned the animosity of Short and Moorman. In 1985 Short was acquitted of the charges. TV news reports on the acquittal are here and here.
In 1984 the general election for sheriff was between Republican Jim Gillum and Democrat Eddie Hines, who defeated Short in the Democratic primary. A TV news report about the race is here. Gillum won the election, becoming the first Republican sheriff in Pasco County history.
In 1985 an additional wing was built at the New Port Richey facility, increasing capacity to 163 inmates.
An early morning raid on July 27, 1986, by federal authorities and the sheriff’s department turned up a fully operational cocaine laboratory and cocaine worth between $5.6 and $8.4 million on the street.
In 1991, the Pasco County Detention Center opened in Land O’ Lakes. The capacity is 352 inmates, with expansion capability for 1,100 prisoners.
On May 3, 1991, Sheriff Jim Gillum asked the FDLE to examine allegations of record tampering at the sheriff’s office. There had been claims that employees’ personnel records were altered or destroyed, and the allegations led to the firing or resignation of 11 employees in the past year.
In March 1995 the sheriff’s office obtained two surplus aircraft from the federal government. They were used to supplement the department’s only helicopter, a small 1963 Hughes 269A.
In 1998, the Dade City jail reverted to a holding facility for records and property evidence. The New Port Richey jail was renamed the Detention West Facility and transformed to provide secure housing for the more unmanageable inmates in custody.
On June 1, 2003, Capt. Charles “Bo” Harrison, the first black patrol deputy in Pasco County, was shot and killed in Lacoochee. (See below.)
In March 2006 deputies voted to be represented by the Fraternal Order of Police. They had rejected an attempt to unionize two years earlier.
On May 1, 2011, Chris Nocco was sworn in as sheriff. He had been appointed by Gov. Scott because of the resignation of Sheriff Bob White.
On Aug. 2, 2011, three siblings were suspected of firing at least 20 shots at a Zephyrhills police officer who tried to pull them over for speeding in a chase at speeds up to 100 mph. The three were fugitives for several days and the case attracted nationwide attention. Sheriff Nocco was interviewed on national television several times.
Second Legal Hanging Was Carried Out
This article appeared in the Dade City Banner on Jan. 4, 1918.
The second legal hanging to be carried out in Pasco county was performed Friday afternoon in the jail yard, when Edgar London, a negro convicted of murdering his wife, was hanged by Sheriff I. W. Hudson. The execution took place at ten minutes past one in the presence of a large crowd of whites and blacks who had come in for miles around to witness the affair.
The negro was led to the platform by Sheriff Hudson and Deputy Osburn. He was accompanied by Rev. Father Francis, who had been with him all during the day, preparing him for his death. While the noose was being adjusted about his neck by Deputy Osburn, the negro displayed the utmost composure, never flinching once during the nerve-racking ordeal. He had the side of his face to the crowd and his lips could be seen moving in prayer. He never offered to say anything to the crowd, but kept his head well up and an erect position to the last, exhibiting a wonderful nerve. The black cap was placed over his head and the trap was sprung by Sheriff Hudson at 1:10. His neck was broken by the fall, and in six minutes he was pronounced dead by Dr. E. L. Reigle, the attending physician.
The body was prepared for shipment and sent to his mother at Hawthorne.
It will be remembered that London killed his wife at Ehren sometime last summer. He was tried and convicted in the October term of Circuit court and sentenced by Judge Reaves to be hung. The first legal hanging ever to take place in this county was performed by Sheriff Sturkie in 1913, when a negro named Tom Bush was hung for a similar crime.
Fallen Lawmen in Pasco CountySHELTON S. NICKS (1886-1909) was shot to death at Fivay on May 8, 1909, by a man he was trying to arrest. Nicks is identified in Tampa Morning Tribune articles as a Hernando County sheriff’s deputy. However, on July 24, 1909, the Gainesville Daily Sun identified him as a Pasco County deputy. (Although his name is spelled Sheldon Nicks on his gravemarker, the spelling Shelton was written in a family Bible when he died, and both spellings occur in the 1900 census, in which he appears twice.)
Constable ARTHUR FLEECE CRENSHAW (1890-1922) and U. S. Prohibition Agent JOHN VANN WATERS (1876-1922). Crenshaw, 31, of Trilby, and Waters, 46, of Dade City were ambushed Oct. 4, 1922, about 7 miles from Dade City. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page entries here and here, they were killed while investigating illegal stills in Pasco County. Four hours later, their bodies were discovered near the swamps of the Withlacoochee River by five men who said they came across a Ford stopped in the roadway. Unable to reach Sheriff Bart D. Sturkie, they called County Judge O. L. Dayton. Dayton went to the scene and found Waters’ hands still clutched the steering wheel, but his head and shoulders were riddled with buckshot. Crenshaw suffered 37 wounds. About 1,000 people crowded the courthouse lawn, and schools and courts were closed for Crenshaw’s funeral. Crenshaw divided his time between duties as an elected constable in the Dade City area and working as a lamplighter, lighting lamps for switches at Trilby, Fla., for Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Crenshaw was buried in Trilby. Waters was buried in Williams Cemetery in Dade City. The Pasco County Commission offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of their killers. Sheriff Bart D. Sturkie and federal prohibition agents investigated. Two days after the murders, six men were indicted. But not all were convicted, and some later died in more gunplay. [Most of this information was taken from a May 31, 2005, Tampa Tribune article by Candace J. Samolinski, who referred to Forgotten Heroes: Police Officers Killed in Early Florida, 1840-1925 by William Wilbanks.]
Deputy WILLIAM HENRY NIX O’BERRY (1889-1926). On Jan. 1, 1926, the New Port Richey Press reported in an article titled "Elfers Deputy Shot by Negro" that Deputy Sheriff Henry O’Berry was shot and killed near Dade City by Charles Davis, whom he was attempting to arrest. Davis was later seriously wounded and captured near Ocala. A Dade City Banner article of Apr. 30, 1926, reported that Davis was believed to have been lynched when he was being transferred from the Ocala jail to Brooksville for trial. The article said that O’Berry had attempted to arrest Davis at Richloam on a charge of stealing a dog. It reported, "Henry O’Berry, of whose murder Davis was accused, was a member of one of the best known pioneer families in Hernando and Pasco counties." According to information provided by Linda D. Hill and Charles Blankenship, W. Henry O’Berry was the fourth child of Daniel M. O’Berry and Mary Ann Nicks. He was born Jan. 17, 1889, in Spring Lake. Daniel was one of four brothers who came from Ga. Mary Ann was the daughter of William R. Nicks and Sophronia (Mitchell). William was a brother to Henry Robert Nicks.
Constable JOHN HERBERT MCCABE died in a Tampa hospital on June 26, 1948 at age 24. He is listed as a deputy sheriff or a constable or a “sheriff’s constable,” although according to information from Eddie Herrmann, he was a deputy at the time of his death. He was killed in an auto accident on his way to investigate a theft of heaters in an orange grove in Drexel. A truck smashed into the deputy’s car on U. S. 41.
Florida Highway Patrol Trooper JAMES "BRAD" CROOKS and Tampa police detectives Randy Bell and Ricky Childers were murdered by Hank Earl Carr on the State Road 54 exit ramp off of I-75 on May 19, 1998. The section of road and the Gowers Corner highway patrol station now bear Crooks' name. Carr had earlier fatally shot his girlfriend’s 4- year-old son in Tampa. He later killed himself in a Hernando County gas station. Crooks was 23 and in his first year as a law enforcement officer.
Capt. CHARLES "BO" HARRISON was shot and killed June 1, 2003, while sitting in his patrol car outside Rumors nightclub in Lacoochee. Harrison graduated from Mickens High School in in 1965. He spent more than two years in Vietnam as a paratrooper. Harrison became Pasco County’s first black patrol deputy. Alfredie Steele Jr. was convicted of the murder on April 26, 2007. Authorities said Steele confessed to the crime, and that Harrison was not the target. Steele was angry at law enforcement because of the May 10, 2003, death of Michael Anthony Reed, 23, killed in a crash while being pursued by a deputy.
Three Counties Pay Respect to Dead OfficerThe following article appeared in the Dade City Banner in 1926.
Pasco, Hernando and Pinellas counties joined hands Sunday afternoon in paying respect to the memory of Henry O’Berry, who was killed Friday morning by Charlie Davis, colored, while resisting arrest at Richloam. An audience of more than a thousand people were present at the funeral services which were held in Townsend House cemetery, one of the oldest burying grounds in this part of the State, and where the remains of several generations of the forbears of the murdered man lie in their last, long sleep.
Mr. O’Berry was a member of one of the oldest of the pioneer families in Hernando and Pasco counties and had hundreds of friends in all sections, all of whom apparently were sat the obsequies.
The services were in charge of the Masonic lodge of Elfers, of which he was a member, and large delegations from the lodges of Dade City, Tarpon Springs and Brooksville were present to pay respects to their deceased brother. Former State Senator Rev. J. M. Mitchell of Elfers delivered the funeral address and in a feeling manner called attention to the manly virtues of the deceased, and endeavored to comfort his sorrowing parents and relatives with the hope of meeting him in a better land "where sorrow and weeping are no more." The floral offering were most magnificent, and attested the great love borne by all to the deceased. A delegation from the Dade City Post of the American Legion attended in uniform as a mark of respect to their departed comrade.
Henry O’Berry was a deputy of Sheriff Hudson and at the time of his death was living in Lacoochee. Sheriff Cobb of Hernando county authorized him to arrest a negro, Charlie Davis, who was visiting at a turpentine still at Richloam in Hernando county, and who was wanted on a charge of forgery.
In furtherance of this duty, Mr. O’Berry drove to Richloam Friday morning and stopped at the house where Davis was staying. He resisted the attempts of the officer to arrest him and a scuffle ensued, during which Mr. O’Berry succeeded in locking his handcuffs about one of the negro’s wrists. The negro finally managed to break away from the officer and ran around the house, pursued by Mr. O’Berry. When back of the house, and out of sight of anyone, two shots were heard, and the officer fell with a bullet wound through his neck.
Following the killing Davis took the dead man’s car and drove to several houses in the neighborhood, finally returning to the scene of the killing and, stopping the car on the dead body. He then abandoned it and made his escape into the swamps close by.
Murderer Shot in Marion County
Sheriff Hudson of Pasco and Sheriff Cobb of Hernando county were immediately notified and hastened to the scene. A large posse was sworn in and for twenty-four hours the entire country was searched without finding any trace of the killer. At the end of that time the tired watchers were relieved and another group of angry citizens took their places.
Saturday afternoon Sheriff Cobb was notified at Brooksville that the murderer had been caught in Marion county and was in jail at Ocala. He immediately drove to that city, only to learn that he had been wounded so seriously that he could not be moved, and probably would not recover. According to the statements of the Marion county officers Davis had managed to elude his pursuers and cross the Little Withlacoochee river, and secreted himself until night, when he slipped on board the night Seaboard train.
He was first seen by a policeman when he climbed down from between the tender and baggage car of this train in Ocala. The police officer gave chase, but lost him, and immediately notified the sheriff. A posse was organized and Davis was finally located about five miles from Ocala. When ordered to halt he started to run, and was shot through the shoulder with a high power rifle carrying a soft nosed bullet, which it is believed entered his lung.
History of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (Weinstein)
This article was written by Alan S. Weinstein, a former employee of the department who researched its history.
Florida’s first Sheriffs
Florida did not assume this “Wild West” personality when it became an American territory. It was a territory of Spain until Andrew Jackson, Florida’s first governor, led a movement into Florida and captured Pensacola. Florida was ultimately transferred to the United States by Spain in July 1821 and then split into two counties, Escambia and St. Johns. Governor Jackson then appointed sheriffs for each of the two counties. William M. Loftin was appointed to the west side and James R. Hanham to the east. After only two years, Sheriff Hanham quit, complaining of a lack of funds and pending lawsuits. He later went missing and history has yet to reveal details of his demise. (Silvestri, 2004)
After Florida gained statehood on March 3, 1845, Escambia and St. Johns Counties were divided into smaller counties. Hillsborough County encompassed what are now Citrus, Hernando and Pasco Counties. In 1887, Pasco County became its own entity and, in 1891, James A. Grady was appointed the first sheriff. Following Grady was the first elected sheriff of Pasco County, S. J. O’Dell (1891-1896), and then Henry Clay Griffin (1896-1904). To this day, no known photos exist of Sheriffs Grady and O’Dell.
During Sheriff O’Dell’s term Dade City became the county seat and, in 1892, Pasco’s first jail was built on the northeast corner of 10th Street and Robinson Avenue in Dade City. At the time, the jail included living quarters for the sheriff and his family. Although privately owned, this building is still in existence today.
In 1901, under Sheriff Griffin, two men were killed inside the jail during a mob attack when the crowd forced their way in. They were able to infiltrate the exterior walls of the jail but could not break into the cells. When Sheriff Griffin refused to surrender the keys, the mob began firing into the jail cells. Inmate Williams was killed instantly and Wright succumbed to his injuries within hours. (New York Times, Feb. 7, 1901)
In 1915, a similar vigilante attack on the jail occurred during Sheriff Sturkie’s first term. Will Leak was in the jail awaiting trial for allegedly raping a girl in Trilby when a crowd broke into the jail and dragged him out. He was found hanging from an oak tree the next day in front of the Trilby barbershop. No charges were ever filed in his murder. (James Thorner, St. Pete Times) It was rumored and believed by many that Sheriff Sturkie, who was known to be a heavy drinker, may have been complicit as he was asleep in his quarters at the rear of the jail.
The end of a rope
Only two legal hangings were carried out in Pasco County, one in 1913 and another in 1917. Hangings were conducted in the county in which the crime occurred and were carried out by the sheriff. The following article was published in the Dade City Banner on January 14, 1918:
“The second legal hanging to be carried out in Pasco County was performed Friday afternoon in the jail yard, when Edgar London, convicted of murdering his wife, was hanged by Sheriff I. W. Hudson.
“It will be remembered that London killed his wife at Ehren sometime last summer. He was tried and convicted in the October term of Circuit court and sentenced by Judge Reaves to be hung. The first legal hanging ever to take place in this county was performed by Sheriff Sturkie in 1913, when Tom Bush was hung for a similar crime.”
Public hangings were abolished on January 1, 1924, and the Florida Legislature instituted court-ordered electrocution.
Death of a deputy
Prohibition began in 1920 and was the beginning of the moonshine industry in Pasco County. One of the more storied events in Pasco’s moonshine history involved U.S. Prohibition Agent John Van Waters and Pasco Sheriff’s Deputy Arthur Fleece Crenshaw.
The two were serving a search warrant for moonshine and stolen property at the Sturkie and Lock Ranch outside of Dade City on the afternoon of October 4, 1922.
On their way back to Dade City, they had to slow down for a soft spot in the swampy road. They were then ambushed before they could draw their weapons. Agent Waters was found with his hands on the steering wheel. They had been executed with a shotgun. Deputy Crenshaw was the first Pasco County deputy killed in the line of duty.
A group of men who said they had discovered the bodies while passing through attempted to contact Sheriff Sturkie (1904-1916 and 1920-1924), but he could not be immediately located, so Judge O.L. Dayton came to the grisly scene. He empaneled a jury of six men at the scene and they searched for evidence. Two days later, the men who said they found the bodies were indicted for the murders. Six of the men in the group comprised the Overstreet brothers and the other was Wilson Connell. It had been suggested that the Overstreet brothers and their friend were moonshine bootleggers who wanted the deputies “out of the way.” Two of the men, Paul and Preston Overstreet, were later shot to death by Pasco Deputy C.C. Walker who said they had ambushed him. The bodies were dumped on the street in front of the Coleman and Ferguson Funeral Home to be displayed to Dep. Crenshaw’s son. Deputy Walker’s shooting of the subjects was ruled justified.
Wrong end of a gun
As often recounted in our nation’s history, the roaring twenties was a time of economic growth and excitement. Although Pasco was considered to be far from the beaten path, it played a role in the economic boom through its burgeoning industry of lumber and turpentine production. During this period, mill towns were springing up anywhere there was ready access to land.
For that reason the Orange Belt railroad had been constructed in our part of the state to facilitate access to the lumber products. Odessa was one of many mill towns along the route.
Odessa, like other towns, had been built hastily by a lumber company for the express purpose of exploiting the available timber. Two entrepreneurs by the names of Lyon and Pine established a mill complete with steam-powered equipment, a turpentine possessing still, housing, and of course a company store/commissary. Typically these towns would literally spring up over night and in a few years, when the timber was gone, pull up the tracks leaving little more than a ghost town. Because this itinerant lifestyle was combined with harsh working conditions, many of the workers were hard living roustabouts prone to drinking and the resultant violence.
On one particular Sunday afternoon, a local by the name of Will Hyatt began shooting up the town after becoming intoxicated. Sheriff Sturkie and a deputy were summoned by townspeople and, upon arrival, confronted Hyatt at his residence. While attempting to make an arrest a scuffle ensued and Hyatt fired six rounds at the lawmen. Sheriff Sturkie and his deputy returned fire and fatally wounded Hyatt. Local newspaper headlines reported, “SHERIFF KILLS WILL HYATT” ... “Was In a Drunken Rage and Trying To Shoot Up The Town.” A subsequent inquiry by a local judge exonerated the sheriff.
Isaac W. Hudson was Sheriff from 1916 to 1920 and 1924 to 1928. Sheriff Hudson, as the last name implies, was a member of the pioneer family, which settled the area today known as Hudson. A staunch prohibitionist and uncompromising peacekeeper, Sheriff Hudson made many enemies. “He never liked to see a wrongdoer not only get by with his misdeeds but brag about it.” (Ash, p. 210) Local rumor had it that he was always armed and even resorted to keeping a gun at the dinner table during the evening meal. Ike Hudson was raised in West Pasco, which made his election to Sheriff a challenge, being that most residents in Pasco were based around the Dade City area. “Ike Hudson was defeated twice by Bart Sturkie ... the second time by only forty-eight votes. On his third try he was elected. The Hudson-Sturkie political feud had been renewed at the end of Hudson’s first term, with Sturkie victorious. At the end of another four years Hudson made a smashing comeback against his veteran opponent, and was sheriff for another full term. Now, instead of cattle thieves he had the bootleggers and moonshiners to contend with. He was as straightforward and uncompromising about upholding the law with the one as he had been with the other.” (Ash, p. 210)
Another deputy falls
Much like the sheriff he served, Deputy W. Henry O’Berry was an aggressive pursuer of justice. Sheriff Hudson gave him permission and Sheriff Cobb (of Hernando County) to arrest a man named Charlie Davis, who was visiting a turpentine still at Richloam in Hernando County, and was wanted on a forgery charge. Deputy O’Berry drove to the house where Davis was staying. Davis resisted arrest and a struggle ensued. Davis broke free and ran to the back side of the house. When Deputy O’Berry followed, he was shot in the neck and killed. Davis initially left the scene in the deputy’s patrol car, but returned and parked it on top of Deputy O’Berry’s body. Davis then fled north to Ocala and was later shot in Marion County while attempting to flee from a police officer that was pursuing him. Davis was hospitalized until well enough to be returned to Pasco. Several months later, while being transported to Pasco County by Hernando County’s Sheriff Cobb, a mob of twenty or more men took Davis from the sheriff. He was believed to have been lynched and his body dumped into the Withlacoochee River. No trace of him has ever been found. (Dade City Banner, April 30, 1926)
Sheriff Charles E. Dowling served from 1928 to 1936. Although Sheriff Hudson had retired, believing he had accomplished his primary goals, the moonshine industry was still prevalent.
On one noted occasion Sheriff Dowling and his deputies had seized a large quantity of moonshine and scheduled a public disposal of the illegal liquor in the courthouse square at Dade City. During this time, locals enjoyed trips into town as a social event and way of staying informed of community news and gossip. Politics was of particular interest and entertainment so Sheriff Dowling took advantage of the opportunity to make his feelings known about illegal spirits. After ordering his deputies to pour the spirits into the sewer, the sheriff undoubtedly gave a rousing speech about the ills and sins of liquor. An unknown detractor of the sheriffs was in the crowd and accused him of being a thief, replacing the liquor with water before pouring it into the sewer. Being the consummate lawman he was, Sheriff Dowling pulled a large wooden match from his overcoat and, with great fanfare, ignited the match and flung it into the sewer. The moonshine ignited with a thunderous roar and collapsed the sewer and adjoining sidewalk.
Although Sheriff Dowling made his point, he was chastised by the city commission for the destruction of city property.
Otis A. Allen (1936-1940) was known as an honorable and fiscally responsible sheriff. During his administration, he chose deputies that were “of good moral character.” He supplied them with all of the necessary equipment to do their jobs and imposed a fundamental code of ethics they were expected to adhere to.
According to accounts of the day, “He has sent one of his deputies to a fingerprint school, and ... now the sheriff’s office had an expert to take the prints of each person arrested, and a record is kept that has proven of much value to the office, as well as an aid in apprehending criminals from all over the United States.”
As was a common practice at that time, Sheriff Allen utilized inmates to help improve roadways and “when not working elsewhere are put to cutting wood”. The cut wood was then given to the county for various projects. Reports state that Sheriff Allen adopted a businesslike approach to collecting fines and forfeitures, and would postpone jail time if he knew he could obtain money or property owed. As compared to counterparts in other counties, he was known for keeping exemplary records of collections and had a reputation for making larger collections than other comparable counties. (Unknown source, February 13, 1940; Obtained from the West Pasco Historical Society)
Leslie Bessenger (1940-1962) served after Sheriff Allen. After serving as a deputy sheriff for eight years, under both Sheriff Dowling and Allen, Leslie Bessenger was elected sheriff in 1940 and has the distinction of being Pasco County’s longest serving sheriff, holding the office for 23 years. He was also one of the founding sheriffs of the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch.
In the beginning of his term, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office consisted of less than ten employees. Most of his deputies were only part-time. It is notable to mention that two of Sheriff Bessenger’s full-time deputies were Leland Thompson and Basil Gaines. Both were later elected as sheriff’s of Pasco County. During this time period it was not uncommon for the entire county to be patrolled by only two deputies.
From the beginning of his term and into the 1950s, Sheriff Bessenger was faced with unprecedented population growth. To keep up with the ever-increasing demand for services, he was the first sheriff to institute marked patrol cars making the sheriff’s office presence known. He was also the first sheriff to install police radios in deputy’s cars.
An article in the New Port Richey Press on April 2, 1945, details that “... two cars have been fitted with two-way radios and one car has a receiving unit only at the present. These are in operation from the Sheriff’s office in Dade City. Later additional equipment will be purchased for the West Pasco section.” The equipment cost a total of $1,700. The article went on to state that “... the Sheriff of Pasco County is to be congratulated on securing this modern equipment designed to add immeasurable to the efficiency of the law.”
Although the sheriff’s budget was paltry by today’s standards, the issue of spending was ever present. It is worthy to note that during the 1956 budget negotiation, the county commission scolded Sheriff Bessenger because, for the first time, the Sheriff’s budget exceeded $100,000.
Hazards of the job
Also during Bessenger’s administration, Deputy John Herbert McCabe was killed (1948). Details surrounding his death suggest he either died in a car crash or was shot to death and died in a Tampa hospital. Sheriff Bessenger and two of his most trusted employees, many years later, nearly fell victim to the hazards of their profession as well. In 1961, a prisoner was being moved from the top floor of the jail (located in the historic Dade City courthouse) to a courtroom on the main floor. During the movement, while in the elevator, the prisoner shot Sheriff Bessenger and “Jailer” Woody Johnson. Both officers recovered and it was found that Chief Deputy Leland Thompson was also a target in the shooting. Other than escape, the motive for the shooting was unclear.
Following the early retirement of Sheriff Bessenger in 1962, Basil Gaines was appointed by the governor to complete the remaining three years of Bessenger's term. Not since Sheriff Hudson in 1924 had there been a sheriff from west Pasco County. It is common knowledge among most long-term Pasco residents that there has always been a rivalry between East and West Pasco. In part, this stems from a geographical separation and the expected competition for the always meager county services. After serving the remaining 15 months of Sheriff Bessenger’s term, Basil Gaines was defeated by Leland Thompson in 1964. Although Sheriff Gaines had been a deputy in West Pasco for ten years prior to the election, many longtime political observers believed that, with an overwhelming majority of residents residing in East Pasco, this important voting block was not ready to elect a west side sheriff. Sheriff Leland Thompson, a native Floridian who was raised in Lacoochee, only served one term (1964 to 1968). He began his career in the early l950s as a night jailer with the responsibility for the care, custody, and control of the inmates at the old Dade City jail. As there was only a single “jailer” on duty, any need for assistance required a deputy to come in from road patrol.
Deputy Thompson then went on to become a patrol deputy and had the distinction of being one of only three full-time uniform deputies in Pasco County. Deputy Thompson was responsible for the Dade City area; Deputy Lance Edgeman covered Zephyrhills, and Deputy Basil Gaines, New Port Richey. Deputy Ed Harvey was the part-time deputy in Land O’ Lakes.
Good pay for good men
With the limited manpower in the “good old days”, the deputies worked six 12-hour days and were on call the remainder of the time. Incidentally, they were “well compensated,” being paid $250 per month and given a $100 per month car allowance. Since they utilized their own vehicles, they were also provided gas and one set of tires per year. Deputy Thompson would reserve his once-a-month payday to take his wife out to dinner, as that was the only time he could afford to.
During these early days of the Sheriff’s Office, only local men were considered for employment and deputies were hired on the Sheriff’s knowledge of their good character and common sense. As there was no formal training such as the police academy, on their first day deputies were given a gun, badge and a manual from the Florida Sheriff’s Association and put on the road. There was no such thing as a bad arrest because the judge would simply drop the charge the next day. Deputy Thompson recounted, “The suspect was glad to be out of jail, never complained and didn’t sue.” If the suspect had to go to trial, they were in for the long haul. Circuit court was only held three times a year, county court four times a year, and both only in Dade City.
When Deputy Thompson was asked about benefits and salary, he was quick to point out that salaries were rarely adjusted year-to-year. He specifically remembers receiving $250 per month from 1955 through 1960. He said his most memorable raise came in 1964 when he was elected Sheriff out of a field of seven candidates. His new salary was $8,500 per year.
The agency grows
In 1968, Gaines recaptured the Office of the Sheriff and served two terms before his retirement in 1977. Longtime residents credited Sheriff Gaines for being honest lawman whose election benefited from him having been raised in West Pasco and the new westward population shift that was occurring. Pasco County was experiencing unprecedented growth, predominately on the west wide of the county. In fact, the growth during this time period was so explosive that between 1963, the beginning of Sheriff Gaines’ first term, and his retirement in 1977, the Sheriff’s Office had grown from 23 to 200 employees. Of the new employees, one was the first sworn female patrol deputy ever to be hired in Pasco County. (S.P. Times, Feb., 1986) Sheriff Gaines’ tenure saw many firsts in the Sheriff’s Office, both with the institution of the Marine and Aviation units, which included a WWII vintage airplane and a Bell helicopter. Sheriff Gaines is also credited with buying the first computer to be used anywhere in Pasco county government.
Elected in 1976 and reelected in 1980, Sheriff John M. Short grew up in West Pasco County. He began his career as a dispatcher in the City of New Port Richey, worked his way up through the ranks and became the city’s Chief of Police in 1972.
As was the case with his predecessor, the new sheriff was challenged with managing his agency in a time of growth and change. Among the many programs, which were considered firsts for the agency, were the School Resource Officers Unit, which placed deputies in the schools, and the Motor Unit. He also instituted a full-time training section, which implemented some of the first documented in-service training within the agency, as well as the first personnel section. Following a national trend in law enforcement to require higher standards and accountability among police officers, the sheriff began the first dedicated internal affairs section and, in 1978, produced the agency’s first rules and regulations manual. Being cognizant of the ever-changing times and the need for diversity the Sheriff was instrumental in increasing the numbers of female deputies, ultimately promoting several to leadership positions. During the 1970s and 1980s Pasco County saw a large influx of northern residents seeking a future and, in many cases, retirement in the “sunshine state.” Recognizing this shift in demographics Sheriff Short instituted a comprehensive Community Service Unit designed to provide educational and crime prevention programs for both youth and senior citizens. In 1981, with the increasing population shift to the west side of the county, the sheriff played a key role in the building of a new administration building and state of the art detention center on Little Road in New Port Richey, both of which are still in use today. When interviewed several years after he left office, Sheriff Short detailed that perhaps one of his greatest accomplishments during his law enforcement career was when he started the Pasco Police Athletic League in 1972. This organization, which has served tens of thousands of Pasco youth, still endures today and has enjoyed the full support of every sheriff since.
Turmoil at the top
J. M. “Buddy” Phillips was appointed by Governor Bob Graham as interim sheriff and charged with leading the agency through a time of confusion and political uncertainty. He only served from August 1984 through November 1984, after he was appointed to replace Sheriff Short, who was arrested and indicted but later exonerated on charges of accepting money and property in return for political favors.
At the time of his appointment, Sheriff Phillips was employed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Having previous experience as an elected sheriff in Suwannee County (1969-1972), he was routinely utilized by the governor when the need arose for an interim sheriff in any one of Florida’s 67 counties. In this capacity, Sheriff Phillips has had the responsibility of serving seven different times as an interim sheriff. It is documented in Florida Sheriff’s Association records that he holds the distinction of having served as Sheriff in more counties than any other individual in state history. It is also believed that this may be a national record as well.
On November 20, 1984, newly elected sheriff Jim Gillum received a call from the governor with the unusual request that he immediately take office to fill the unfinished term of Sheriff John Short. Although, as per state statue, Gillum’s term did not begin until January of the next year, interim Sheriff J.M. Buddy Phillips had requested to return to his former assignment.
After a hard-fought election battle Gillum was looking forward to a break before assuming the role of sheriff. However, recognizing that duty calls, he immediately accepted the governor’s appointment. Born in Pittston, Pennsylvania, Jim Gillum moved to Tampa, Florida, as a youth. He previously served for 11 years with the Tampa Police Department.
Like his predecessors, Sheriff Gillum was progressive in bringing about operational and technological changes to the agency. He began and strongly supported the institution of a Victims Advocate Unit and was noted for his vision and fiscal acumen in purchasing and financing a modern 800-megahertz radio network. This technologically advanced system was a first for Pasco County as it provided, at that time, almost unlimited capability and walkie-talkies for every deputy. Previous to this, the sheriff’s office was one of the only agencies in the Tampa Bay area without hand-held radios.
Additionally this was a time when many agencies were providing semiautomatic handguns for officers and Gillum insured his deputies had the same. Although today’s cell phones are common place with the motoring public, the mid-1980’s was the first time phones made an appearance in select police supervisors’ vehicles. Due to rapid growth and the lobbying efforts of Sheriff Gillum, in 1991 the opening of a new detention facility in Land O’ Lakes was realized. It was designed to house 352 inmates with future expansion capabilities to house well in excess of 1,000.
Perhaps Sheriff Gillum’s most notable accomplishment was the Career Service Act which provided job protection and security for deputies. This act, which he successfully lobbied the county commission to pass, was unheard of at this time in sheriff’s offices in Florida. Sheriff Gillum was also a driving force behind bringing the Fraternal Order of Police organization to the sheriff’s office and is listed in the charter as its first member.
The agency continues to grow
A native of Parrish, Florida, Sheriff Lee H. Cannon was raised in Land O’ Lakes and began his law enforcement career with the Florida Department of Game and Fish. He later served with the Tampa Police Department and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. He left law enforcement to attend law school, later serving as an assistant state attorney for Hillsborough County, and the chief legal counsel for the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Cannon was elected in 1992 and reelected in 1996.
Throughout his early law enforcement and prosecutorial career, Lee Cannon earned a strong reputation as an uncompromising crime fighter. In addition to his policing responsibilities as sheriff, he was known as an ardent advocate for victims and instituted the Domestic Violence Unit, as well as a Secondary Victims Unit that provided services to children living in domestic violence situations. Both programs were a first for Pasco County.
Additional programs initiated by the sheriff were designed to either prevent youth crime or divert first time youth offenders. His Adopt-a-Cop and Youth Diversion programs proved to be particularly successful. Additionally, Sheriff Cannon is credited with bringing the miniature “mock city” of Safety Town to realization, further incorporating it as a not-for-profit all-volunteer organization, which teaches safety to thousands of elementary school kids each year.
In an effort to capitalize on technology and increase efficiency, Sheriff Cannon secured extensive federal grant funding for one of his more prominent accomplishments, the development of the Call-In Reporting System. A specialized unit assists deputies in dictating police reports via telephone to “call takers” who type the reports into a database.
Reinstituting the motorcycle traffic unit and prioritizing and supporting increased drug enforcement efforts were just two of Sheriff Cannon’s many other programs to meet the increasing demands for law enforcement services. Due to a burgeoning growth in the detention center population, Cannon added a 98-bed housing minimum security housing annex at the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center. This innovative aluminum framed structure with a rubberized synthetic cloth skin is a permanent tent-like structure that is a durable, low cost housing unit for low risk inmates.
Turn of the century
Sheriff Robert L. “Bob” White was first elected in 2000 and then reelected in 2004. During this time the agency continued to grow and increase its professionalism. In 2003, Sheriff White announced the agency received national accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA). This milestone signified that the Pasco Sheriff’s Office was now professionally accredited in both law enforcement and corrections at both the state and national level.
Sheriff White increased the number of deputies on Pasco roads patrolling our communities and answering calls for service. In 2006, road patrol deputies across the county answered more than 171,000 citizen-generated calls for service, and in 2007, the agency’s jurisdiction grew to the sixth largest in the state in terms of population served.
Sheriff White initiated a number of detention programs designed to save taxpayer’s dollars and give inmates a productive way to spend their court sentences. These included:
An agriculture program where inmates have raised tons of produce that is utilized in the jail food system;
An aquaculture project where inmates have harvested thousands of pounds of catfish, which is also used in the jail food system; and a hydroponics program where inmates harvest produce every 21 days without the use of soil, which ensures a quick and easy way to lower jail food costs even more.
The agency moved into the Consolidated Emergency Communications Building (CEC) in 2005, which houses both the county 911 and Pasco Sheriff’s Office emergency call takers and dispatchers. PSO personnel currently handle an average of 1,500-2,000 phone calls a day at the CEC, which includes non-emergency calls. They handle approximately 150-200 emergency calls a day.
The agency also opened the Central Support Services Building next to the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center. The building houses four PSO units, including:
The Forensic Services Section (FSS) that is responsible for crime scene documentation and evidence collection;
The use of technology also increased during the tenure of Sheriff White. Members began using email for communication both internally within the agency and externally to citizens and other law enforcement organizations. Also, all patrol cars were equipped with laptop computers to aid in “voiceless” dispatch and to provide immediate access to vital information in agency and state computer databases.
Sheriff White directed the creation of the Citizens Service Unit in 2004 to utilize the talents and skills of volunteers from within the local community as partners in public safety. CSU members are specially trained by the Sheriff’s Office to respond to many non-emergency and routine calls for service that do not require law enforcement or regulatory authority. CSU volunteers also perform proactive neighborhood watch patrols in their local communities. The CSU program is designed to augment the road patrol function in an effort to afford our certified personnel more time for proactive enforcement, community policing and follow-up investigations.
Pasco County jails
Pasco County was incorporated into the Seventh Judicial Circuit in January 1888 and the first county jail was built in 1892 on 10th Street in Dade City. This building is still standing today and serves as an attorney’s office. The 10th Street Jail consisted of two cells and one isolated cell. The left wing of the building was used for the Sheriff’s personal living quarters.
Inmates at this time were “leased” on a highest bidder basis to local lumber companies, farmers, turpentine mills and other businesses. Since the southern landowners ran the courts and government, they used this means to maintain a constant supply of convicts for a stable labor force.
There have been two legal, court-ordered hangings in Pasco County. in 1913 and 1917. Lynchings, however, were not uncommon and mobs would storm the jail, seize a prisoner and hang him from a tree.
On January 1, 1924, the Florida Legislature abolished public hangings and instituted court-ordered electrocution for those sentenced to death.
In 1909, the 10th Street Jail was closed and the next jail was opened inside the Historic Court House in Dade City. The Court House Square jail contained 16 two-man cells, two cells for females and a holding cell known as the Bull Pen, which held approximately 20 inmates at any given time. The jail could accommodate a total of 60 inmates.
In 1966, two new corrections facilities were built in Pasco County. A county facility on Sunset Boulevard in New Port Richey contained a pair of two-man cells and one 16- man holding cell, and also included the Court House, Sheriff’s Office and a West Communications Center. A Dade City Corrections Facility on North 5th Street housed 124 inmates, and also served as the Sheriff’s Office East Communication Center.
In 1981, a new Sheriff’s Office facility was built east of the county courthouse and government center on Little Road in New Port Richey. This building houses the Sheriff’s Administration Center and the new West Side Detention Facility. Built to house 106 male, female and juvenile inmates, overcrowding forced a 1985 expansion to increase capacity to 163 inmates.
As Pasco County grew, jail capacity continued to be a problem. In 1991, the Pasco County Detention Center opened a state-of-the-art corrections facility in Land O’ Lakes.
Capacity was 352 inmates, with expansion capability for 1,000 inmates. The Dade City 5th Street Jail reverted to a holding facility for east side prisoners awaiting transport to Land O’ Lakes. The 5th Street Jail closed it doors to inmates in 1992 and became a property and evidence building, and all inmates were transported to Land O’ Lakes for processing.
The West Side Detention Facility now houses juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17 who have been adjudicated as adults, and adult males held on misdemeanor/light felony charges.
Currently, the West Side Detention Facility has been expanded to hold 225 inmates. The Land O’ Lakes Detention Facility has added two temporary housing units and has a capacity of 782. Currently the Land O’ Lakes Facility houses 1,100 inmates. The Chief