Suit Calls Fla. Sheriff’s Probe a ‘Publicity Stunt’

Rhett Pardon

LAKELAND, Fla. — The infamous Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Fla., this week was sued over accusations that his department used "the tragic death of a young girl as an opportunity for media attention."

Attorney Lawrence Walters and co-counsel in the case, Howard Marks, filed the suit against Judd on behalf of a 12-year-old client who was allegedly falsely arrested, blamed for a classmate’s suicide and labeled a "cyberbully."

The suit said that Judd turned the arrest into a “publicity stunt.”

Judd is the same sheriff who told local media that he declared war on the production and distribution of porn in Florida’s Polk County several years ago, arresting adult star Kimberly Kupps for “obscenity.” 

Later, he also targeted a gas station owner, Minakashiben Patel, in another “obscenity” case after several soft-core porn movies were found for sale in a sting at her mini mart.

Court documents filed Wednesday show the lawsuit filed against the Polk County Sheriff’s Department claimed the girl suffered mental and emotional anguish from the accusations against her.

“While this case is not representative of the many ethical sheriffs out there, it stands out as an egregious abuse of law enforcement discretion,” Walters told XBIZ. “This sheriff’s decision to arrest our client, and drag her name through the mud by labeling her a cyberbully while she was still grieving her classmate’s death, was reckless and inconsistent with fundamental notions of due process.

“We hope this case will result in some changes in the way this sheriff does business, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Judd brought felony charges, in conjunction with the state's attorney's office, in October 2013 against two girls — one of them Katelyn Roman, 12 — after the suicide a month earlier of a third girl, Rebecca Sedwick.

Judd worked the local and national media, and released the names and mugshots of the two girls. He claimed that as many as 15 children tormented Sedwick on social media to the point of her eventual suicide.

Judd and the state eventually dropped the charges after combing through thousands of Facebook posts and failing to find evidence of cyberbullying.

Roman’s family is seeking at least $15,000 in damages.

“We’re seeing evidence of law enforcement abuses around the country, and the public is starting to see what civil rights lawyers have known for many years; the tremendous power of a badge and gun can be easily misused,” Walters said.