Florida Sheriff Sued Over Hurricane Shelter Background Checks

Sheriff Grady Judd, in Polk County Florida

A Florida sheriff is facing a lawsuit after announcing police would check for arrest warrants at hurricane shelters.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd made headlines when his office tweeted Wednesday, “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 sheriff had previously announced his intention to keep sex offenders out of shelters by allowing police to run background checks.

But a lawsuit filed Sunday in Polk Circuit Court alleges that reasoning is “nothing more than a guise for undertaking unconstitutional searches and seizures,” as sex offender status is listed in “big, bold” letters on Florida IDs.

“The purpose of these pedestrian ‘checkpoints’ is to conduct a fishing expedition to find any possible basis, no matter how tenuous, for issuing citations to or arresting human beings seeking refuge from a Class 5 hurricane,” according to the lawsuit filed by Virginia resident Andres Borreno, risk manager for Nexus Services Inc., which funds legal services for immigrants. “The problem is that these searches and seizure are not based on any suspicion of criminal conduct. Suspicion is not raised by trying to gain entry into an emergency shelter to save one’s life and the lives of family members.”

Borreno claims he was stopped from entering a Polk County shelter on Sept. 9 and asked to submit to a criminal background check.

It’s unclear whether any arrests were issued at Polk County hurricane shelters ahead of Hurricane Irma. The sheriff’s office declined to offer a detailed statement Monday due to office closures.

“We have not seen or read the aforementioned lawsuit,” a sheriff’s office spokeswoman said Monday via Facebook.

The office’s tweets drew widespread scrutiny last week, with Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce observing, “You can have a warrant for something as simple as misdemeanor shoplifting. Sheriff is basically saying don’t bother coming to the shelter.”

Borreno is represented by Orlando attorney Cynthia Conlin of Cynthia Conlin & Associates and Mario Williams of Nexus Caridades Attorneys Inc. in Atlanta.

Nexus Services funds Nexus Caridades Attorneys as part of its corporate giving.

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