GULFPORT (FOX 13) - A Pinellas County appeals court has ruled that the city of Gulfport unlawfully issued red light camera tickets since the city installed cameras at three intersections in 2011. The decision came out of one woman's fight to have her ticket vacated.
Video clearly shows Deborah Blake's car running a steady red light in Gulfport in October 2014, but the court agreed with Blake the camera company American Traffic Solutions was the one that issued the violation not a police officer.
The panel of Pinellas County judges used a District Court of Appeals ruling out of South Florida to guide its decision. In that case, the court ruled that the city of Hollywood could not "delegate police power" by allowing ATS to screen data and decide whether or not a violation had occurred.
In Blake's initial hearing, Gulfport argued that a police officer makes the final decision to issue a citation. The city won the appeal, but Blake challenged again and the appeals court agreed with Blake, that police have used ATS in an "improper delegation of police powers."
Blake's ticket was vacated. Now serious questions have arisen over the $1.7-million collected by red light camera fines in Gulfport since 2011. Of that sum, nearly $700,000 went to ATS, nearly $800,00 went to the state, and just $262,118 went to the city.
Blake is demanding that money be refunded.
"What they need to do is to man up, accept responsibility, and give everybody back their money," said Blake.
FOX 13 asked Gulfport mayor Sam Henderson if the city would issue refunds.
"I don't imagine that will happen unless something comes across where there's a final ruling somewhere higher up in the legal system that says what happened was unconstitutional, illegal," he replied. "If that happens of course if that happens we'd have no choice."
Florida's Department of Revenue and ATS have not said if they would refund their portions of the fines collected.
Henderson now supports removing the cameras when the city's contract is up in March, he says, mainly because of public complaints. That decision could be made as soon as January.