|Published:||Aug 19, 2010 3:03 PM EDT|
|Updated:||Aug 19, 2010 12:03 PM EDT|
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - The two photos of John Allen Ditullio are a sharp contrast: There's the man donning red jail scrubs with a large swastika on his neck, barbed wire inked down his face, and a long, scraggly goatee.
Then, there's the man in the blue dress shirt with a slight tattoo under his right eye and a neatly trimmed goatee.
Same man. One with inflammatory ink, one without.
That's because a Pasco County judge ordered the state to pay for a cosmetologist to cover up Ditullio's tattoos during his murder trial last year.
It's just one example of how ink can play a role in the criminal justice system.
Detectives use tattoos to identify suspects. Prison officials use them to spot gang members. Defense attorneys often scramble to make sure they are hidden.
More than 45 million Americans sport at least one tattoo, according to one report, giving themselves and everyone else a permanent, unmistakable tag.
And for those in the criminal justice system, that ink can be vital.
Law-enforcement officers in Central Florida routinely document identifying marks like tattoos and scars on criminal suspects and other people they come in contact with. Some jails - such as Seminole and Lake - do too.
"They're an identifying factor that we can use in all facets of law enforcement," said Seminole County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kim Cannaday.
If a suspect doesn't want to give their real name, tattoos can help deputies learn the truth. If there are several people with the same name, a tattoo can help distinguish who's who.
Orlando police used tattoos to differentiate identical twins Dante and Donte Hall, both of whom were convicted for their roles in a deadly robbery spree in Eustis several years ago.
Donte Hall sometimes confused authorities by claiming to be his brother. But he got a neck tattoo, which gave his true identity away.
Detective Eduardo Lopez said officers once tracked down a fugitive wanted in New York for murder, but he gave the Orlando authorities a false name.
The officers, suspecting they had the right guy, cross-checked his tattoos with those listed in a national law-enforcement database - and were able to identify him that way.
In Lake County, sheriff's detectives spotted a robber's "DUVAL" neck tattoo in surveillance footage from a Walgreens last year. Investigators used that tattoo to identify the robber as Donny Pierce.
Tattoos are so noteworthy for the Lake County Sheriff's Office that its staff photographs all the ink on inmates booked into the jail, and then posts the photos on its website.
"Tattoos can be very important in identifying someone, as they are usually very unique to the individual who wears it," said Sgt. Jim Vachon. "Tattoos can even tell a story as to a person's affiliations and background."
That can be especially true of gang members, who often ink themselves with symbols identifying their gang affiliation, making it easier for law enforcement to make criminal connections.
"I loved when the gang members brand themselves," said Lopez, who used to work in the Orlando Police Department's gang unit.
Accused Westside gang member Fernando Lopez was one of 18 members and associates arrested last year on accusations they were responsible for bringing millions of dollars worth of cocaine and marijuana into Central Florida.
He pleaded guilty earlier this year and is slated to be sentenced this month, according to court records.
According to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent, many of Lopez's tattoos are prison and "thug life" related walls, shackles, barbed wire, spider webs, skulls and demons.
On his left arm, Lopez has a tattoo of a person firing a machine gun and wearing a shirt with the letters "APK."
APK, the agent said, stands for a documented gang in northwest Orange County: Apopka Police Killers. Lopez belonged to APK when he was young, the agent said, then is suspected of switching to Westside.
The Florida Department of Corrections documents inmate tattoos and posts detailed lists on the agency's website with the criminal's information.
Corrections staff use the tattoos to identify gang members for security purposes - they don't want to put rival gang members in the same units, which could lead to prison fights or riots.
"A tattoo is like a fingerprint. It's an identifier," said Michelle Jordan, who works in the Department of Correction's security threat and intelligence unit. Jordan estimates that most of the people who come through Florida's prison system have a tattoo.