Who Is Grady Judd? The Polk County Sheriff Threatened Hurricane Irma Evacuees With Jail Time

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Wednesday, with a massive Category 5 hurricane headed towards the Florida coast, a senior law enforcement official in Polk County tweeted out a stern, startling warning to any residents looking to seek shelter from the storm. Namely, if there's a warrant out for your arrest, the Polk County sheriff could jail those Hurricane Irma evacuees seeking shelter, rather than let them ride out the storm.

The tweet has drawn intense criticism since it was posted on Wednesday morning. In it, the office of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd makes it clear that if someone with a warrant goes to a hurricane shelter to seek refuge from the storm, they'll be taken "to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail."

In a previous and subsequent tweet, the office of Sheriff Judd specifically singled out sex offenders, saying that they will not be allowed into hurricane shelters with children, and that law enforcement officers will be stationed at every such shelter in the county. It also followed up the inflammatory tweet about sending evacuees to jail with another, more strenuously insisting that the jail is actually itself a safe shelter for people to ride out the hurricane.

Bustle has reached out to the Polk County Sheriff's Office for comment, asking for clarification whether people taken to the "safe and secure shelter" of the county jail will be allowed to leave when the storm passes, as would people in a normal storm shelter, or whether they'll be held. A representative of the office gave the following response:

Our jail facilities are safe and secure shelters. Anyone in our jail will most likely be safe from a storm. If for any reason a jail facility becomes unsafe, since we have a duty to safely house inmates, we will take the inmates elsewhere.

Bustle has requested further comment, given that the office's response did not answer whether Hurricane Irma evacuees will be held in jail after the storm has ended.

Needless to say, this kind of statement could easily have a chilling effect on people's willingness to seek safe shelter during the storm, especially if they're facing some form of legal trouble. The prospect of being jailed in the middle of a huge, potentially life-threatening natural disaster is harrowing in the extreme. It places an additional burden on a person's decision-making ― am I going to be arrested and thrown in jail if I try to protect myself? ― at a time when everyone's top priority should be safety.

Although it's still slightly too early to know exactly what path Irma will take, five-day forecasts are currently showing it rolling into Florida, with Polk County very much in it's path. At bare minimum, it now seems wholly likely storm conditions will affect Central Florida, even if Irma doesn't make direct landfall in the state. And depending on how severe the conditions become, the confidence of residents that they can safely evacuate to storm shelters may prove absolutely crucial.