Fingerprint scanner used to catch Lake County sex offender

Fingerprint scanner identifies criminals almost instantly

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – The Flagler County Sheriff's Office uses 14 "Rapid I.D." fingerprint scanners, and Sheriff Rick Staly announced plans to buy 14 more.

"I know you're going to find this surprising, but people lie to law enforcement all the time," Staly said. "What this technology does is put us on a better-than-even playing field."

All corporals carry the scanners that almost instantly identify suspects by checking a national database of prints collected from criminals.

Staly wants to put 14 more scanners in the hands of all sergeants.

"(Years ago) it would take months and months to get their fingerprints back and find out who they are," Staly said. "Deputies need to know, are they dealing with a guy that's a parolee for murder or robbery and could be armed?"

One of the corporals carrying the Rapid ID fingerprint scanner is Ron Mello, who recently encountered a sex offender accused of failing to register in Lake County. According to Mello, the sex offender, Ronald Weikert, falsely identified himself as Ronald Phelps.

Mello had a tip that the wanted sex offender was possibly trespassing on a construction site behind the Flagler Public Library in Palm Coast.

Body camera video shows Weikert unable to provide identification or to answer Mello's questions.

"There's just something when I was talking to him, his mannerisms, the way he was answering my questions," Mello said. 

Mello asked Weikert to place his fingers on the Rapid ID scanner and within minutes the device, connected via Bluetooth to Mello's laptop, identified Weikert. Dispatch confirmed Weikert had a warrant for his arrest in Lake County and Mello arrested Weikert.

"When it comes up as serious as a sex offender and they absconded, obviously there are things in my head that go off -- has anyone been a victim of him because he's been anywhere he's isn't supposed to be," Mello said.

Mello said being able to identify a suspect is critical for officer safety.

"It's going through my mind 'Why is he giving us the wrong information, could it be that he's a murderer?'" Mello said. "They know what they did and might think we know what they did, so we're always cautious. Officer safety is most important because I have a family and everyone has a family they want to go home to."

Sheriff Staly said his recently-installed license plate readers countywide work in conjunction with the fingerprint scanners.

Staly said the plate readers identify the car and the Rapid ID scanner identifies the driver.

License plate readers have caught criminals on the run, sex offenders and even Alzheimer's patients who are lost.

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