LAKELAND — Turns out President Donald Trump isn’t the only official who can make an ass out of himself on Twitter.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has ignited a firestorm on the social media site by issuing a series of menacing warnings to people seeking shelter from Hurricane Irma if their records aren’t entirely clean.
“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,” he tweeted.
Perhaps fearing misunderstanding, he followed up shortly thereafter with the more plainly-worded: “If you have a warrant, turn yourself in to the jail – it’s a secure shelter.”
It didn’t take Twitter-users long to take offense at the comments, pointing out that the sheriff’s words could have the effect of discouraging very minor offenders from taking advantage of shelters and thereby putting them at great risk.
“This is monstrous,” one user wrote. “You are going to kill people and their families over unpaid parking tickets.”
“Of all the gross things that America has invented and mass-produced, Aspiring Celebrity Tough Guy Sheriffs have to be about the grossest,” tweeted David Roth (presumably no relation to the fabulous Jump and Hot for Teacher singer of the same name) on Wednesday.
The not-so-veiled comparison to fellow unchained sheriff Joe Arpaio seems particularly apt. Like Arpaio, Judd is known for making outspoken statements, and was called out on those very terms by the ACLU.
“[You should] focus on preparing for Irma, not burnishing your Joe-Arpaio-style ‘tough cop’ credentials with irresponsible tweets,” the group said, adding that most outstanding warrants are for non-violent offenses.
In their official statement, the ACLU echoed the sentiments of the more than 8,000 Twitter users speaking out, stating that Judd’s remarks “send the message that these individuals must choose between facing a natural disaster without aid and shelter or going to jail over things like unpaid traffic tickets.”
Judd was predictably unapologetic in the face of the backlash, even doubling down and suggesting that to proceed otherwise would be enabling sexual predation.
“If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed,” he tweeted.
Then: “We cannot and we will not have innocent children in a shelter with sexual offenders & predators. Period.”
Carrie Horstman—a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman and Judd’s own unfortunate version of Sarah Huckabee Sanders—promptly went into “spin-mode,” explaining that officers checking IDs can’t see what crime an existing warrant is for, and would necessarily have to arrest non-violent misdemeanor offenders along with other more serious criminals.
“Officers are legally obligated to take a person into custody if they have a warrant,” she stated flatly. “We aren’t sitting there looking for people to arrest. We are sitting there to keep people safe.”
Horstman further defended the policy by saying that law-abiding members of the public would now be encouraged to use the shelters because they know that the sites will be safe, and voiced her hope that the policy would lead “to more people turning themselves in.”
Irma—apparently not intimidated by tough-guy Sheriff Judd—is still projected to hit Florida by Sunday.