Polk County sheriff Grady Judd sparked backlash on Wednesday after warning anyone with a warrant out for their arrest would be sent to jail if they showed up at hurricane shelters.
Judd, who represents a Florida county in the path of the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, in a series of tweets warned residents in his district that “if you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we’ll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail.”
The tweet was quickly condemned online, as many critics noted that the sheriff’s warning could keep people who have arrest warrants for low-level non-violent offenses away from shelters.
In an email to Business Insider, Judd dismissed critics, arguing that he was attempting to discourage alleged sex offenders from staying in shelters.
“We don’t arrest people for traffic, quit listening to those who have no idea what they are talking about,” Judd said.
“Yes, we arrest those with outstanding criminal warrants wherever we find them and shelters aren’t a sanctuary from arrest. Next, we gave a five day notice as a heads up so there were no surprises at the shelter.”
Judd framed his comments around his desire to keep people safe.
“We will not allow sexual predators and child offenders in our shelters,” he said. “Do you want your child sleeping next to a child sexual offender? Once again, those with such classifications already knew they could not be there, we were just giving them another warning.”
Judd did emphasise in the email that he will not check immigration status at the shelter, and that immigrants living in the US without permission were “welcome and encouraged to shelter with us.”
“We want everyone SAFE!” he concluded.
An incredibly popular sheriff who has been routinely reelected, Judd has a history of news-making comments, repeatedly urging his constituents to carry firearms and saying he would lock up Apple CEO Tim Cook if the company didn’t cooperate with Judd’s attempt to unlock two suspects’ iPhones in a murder investigation.
He has garnered a reputation for his focus on combating pedophilia and what he believes are other illegal sexually deviant acts, sparking criticism for bringing cases that have been easily dismissed.
“This guy has been abusing people’s constitutional rights for 15, 20 years,” first Amendment attorney Larry Walters told the Tampa Bay Times in 2011 of Judd. “He has a real hostility toward sexual expression. Anything erotic he assumes to be illegal.”
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