Anti-Porn Sheriff Faces Claim in Cyber-Bullying Arrest
LAKELAND, Fla. — The infamous Sheriff Grady Judd in Polk County, Fla., has been served with a claim involving a false cyber-bullying arrest and his later actions in the case.
Two attorneys — adult industry lawyer Lawrence Walters and co-counsel in the case, Howard Marks — have filed a claim with the county and state on behalf of a client who was allegedly falsely arrested, blamed for a classmate’s suicide and labeled a "cyber-bully."
The client, a 12-year-old girl, fell victim to "Judd’s desperate attempt to find a scapegoat for the next news cycle," Walters told XBIZ.
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 cyber-bullying.
Walters said the state and sheriff’s office will now have six months to decide whether to settle the claim, or litigate the matter.
Judd is no stranger to the media; further, he's also no stranger to First Amendment cases filed against his office, including ones that target adult entertainment.
Several years ago, Judd declared war on the production and distribution of porn in Polk County, arresting adult star Kimberly Kupps for obscenity.
He also targeted a gas station owner, Minakashiben Patel, in an obscenity case after several soft-core porn movies were found for sale in a sting at her mini mart.
Judd also waged a campaign of retaliation against the legal coordinator for Athiests of Florida, according to a suit that sought a restraining order. The coordinator said she was a target by the sheriff's force for herbeliefs as an athiest in the predominantly Christian-oriented Polk County.
In each of the cases, Walters, on behalf of his clients as well as with the current one in the case, took a stand against the Polk County sheriff, who began his career with the department in 1972 as a dispatcher and rose through the ranks to sergeant to colonel. He was elected as sheriff in 2004 and re-elected in 2008 and 2012.
"This is the latest in pattern of serious abuse of law enforcement authority by Sheriff Judd, from prosecuting authors, retail clerks, and website operators for selling pornography, atheists for being atheists, and many others that don’t fit into his view of morality," Walters said.
"We see this attack on a helpless 12-year-old girl as the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I’ve requested a formal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the pattern of civil rights abuses by Sheriff Judd."
Marks, Walters co-counsel in the case, said: “Our client had no involvement in the suicide of her former classmate, yet her mug shot was paraded around by Sheriff Judd on multiple national and local television shows, as the poster child for cyber-bullying."
Lawrence, who noted that Roman suffers from severe psychological trauma and will have ongoing medical expenses for quite some time, said he hopes that the suit will compensate her for severe emotional and psychological trauma "as a result of the false arrest, and public shaming."
The attorneys said that they intend to pursue numerous claims against the sheriff, including civil rights violations, false arrest, malicious prosecution and outrageous conduct.
"[We're] hoping that this lawsuit will shed some light on a significant problem with the ability of a sheriff to charge any minor with a felony, which then triggers the ability to release the minor’s name to the media, and essentially destroy their life before any proof of guilt, or even the filing of formal criminal charges," Walters said.
"We’re also asking the DOJ to look into the broader history of abuse and disregard for constitutional rights by this renegade sheriff."