- Associated Press - Sunday, November 20, 2016

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (AP) - A man who was arrested on charges that he fled from Pasco County deputies during a traffic stop, intentionally ran a deputy off the road, and was holding 9.5 grams of meth became the star of the sheriff’s office Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Tampa Bay Times reports (https://bit.ly/2fsm7vn) that a photo of Marquis Porter showed two deputies gripping chunks of his dreadlocks as he sat in the grass with his hand behind his back.

The Sheriff’s Office says it’s trying to make such posts the norm - all part of a budding social media strategy that has amplified their online presence, especially in the last month.

But critics wonder: At what cost? Charged but not convicted, should Porter be the object of ridicule?

The Sheriff’s Office says it’s trying to make such posts the norm - all part of a budding social media strategy that has amplified their online presence, especially in the last month.

“This criminal is not different than any criminal we post about every single day,” said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Melanie Snow, who helps run the social media accounts. “He was a threat to the community before. It’s important the community know he is in custody and no longer a threat to them.”

Their reach online is one of the biggest in Tampa Bay, with nearly 77,000 followers on Facebook and another 19,000 on Twitter. Pasco Sheriff’s impressions have climbed since the office has expanded the amount and kinds of posts it puts online in its efforts to better connect with the community, Snow said.

“SAD CRIMINAL OF THE DAY,” the posts about Porter began on Facebook and Twitter. Both pointed out his tears.

The post on Facebook prompted jeers, jokes and jabs from commenters who said they wouldn’t feel sorry for someone facing charges that he put deputies’ lives in danger. By Saturday afternoon it had been shared more than 700 times and had more than 250 comments.

When law enforcement toys with humor online, it can be “kind of a hit or miss,” said Ben Gorban, who participated in a national project on social media while working for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Gorban, now a policy analyst for the Police Foundation, said while some agencies keep posts to the facts, others try to get more creative. He said there is no right or wrong way, but some grasp humor better than others.

“Without the policies in place and the right understanding of the organization and what the organization’s standing in the community is,” he said, “things can come across the wrong way.”

From a legal standpoint, Clearwater-based criminal defense attorney Steve Romine said the post about Porter could actually affect the case. No matter how damning the evidence may seem, Romine said, Porter is innocent until proven guilty. If the charges were dropped, Porter could build a civil case of libel, Romine said.

The Sheriff’s Office said it aims to engage with the community and humanize the office through its social media, a tool that often helps the agency solve crimes and find suspects.

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Information from: Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.), https://www.tampabay.com.

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