For everyone's sake, Sheriff Judd, please end "The Grady Show"

The character Grady Judd too often plays has become very dangerous. He'll never face a political reckoning for it; but he should look inward for a moral reckoning and change his behavior.

June 1, 2020

“The people of Polk County like guns. They have guns. I encourage them to own guns. And they’re going to be in their homes tonight with their guns loaded. And if you try to break into their homes to steal, to set fires, I’m highly recommending they blow you back out of the house with their guns.”

— Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, at a press conference amid George Floyd protests, citing unquoted, unquoted social media “threats” from “Antifa.” These never-explained or documented threats were most likely a hoax perpetuated by a white supremacist group called Identity Europa. Story here.

January 6, 2021

No shoot the fed

Need to make the streets of DC run red with the blood of these tyrants

Our founding fathers are rolling in their graves right now at how much our country has turned to [censored]

I’ll [censored] kill them all

I have my s[expletive] next to my bed

Ready to go…

…Any cop or military who stands in the way is the enemy

We all swore an oath

And if you violate it you are the same.

— Excerpt from 6-year-veteran Polk Sheriff’s deputy Peter Heneen speaking to a fellow deputy in text messages on Jan. 6, 2021, the evening of the Trump insurrection/lynch mob at the U.S. Capitol, according to the Polk Sheriff’s Office.

January 19, 2021

“We are far afield when we take these radical comments and say that all 320 million people believe that. Let’s get away from this fringe on the far right and far left and get back to the middle of this bell curve. The overwhelming majority of people are right of center, left of center and are God-fearing, good people. I love the people of this county, of this state, of this nation and there will always be white noise and radical opposition. And I'm just sorry in this environment that we just choose to put all this out there…

“…But if we can't police ourselves first, we can't police the community…

“…It’s clear who won the election and that is President-elect Biden, who is taking office tomorrow.” 

— Grady Judd, at the press conference announcing the arrest of his deputy, Peter Heneen on felony threat charges. It took him two months and an arrest of his deputy to acknowledge Joe Biden won the election. It took him a week to clearly acknowledge and address the Trump insurrection/lynch mob at the Capitol.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd is my sheriff. I think he is a skillful and insightful organizational leader, who runs a tight, professional day-to-day agency. He and I don’t see the world in exactly the same way; but we share a commitment to public communication. I thought we worked fairly well together during my term on the School Board. And we provided the public with an incredibly important and honest public debate that led to Polk County not arming teachers, which remains my proudest moment as an elected official.

Grady Judd is also a celebrity politician, who has made himself an unofficial guardian of police culture in Polk County and beyond. He is Deputy Peter Heneen’s boss.

Readers should consider that when considering Heneen’s words above and our celebrity sheriff’s public behavior at a press conference on June 1, 2020 — and many other times over the years. Here is that June 1 statement again:

The people of Polk County like guns. They have guns. I encourage them to own guns. And they’re going to be in their homes tonight with their guns loaded. And if you try to break into their homes to steal, to set fires, I’m highly recommending they blow you back out of the house with their guns.

Sheriff Judd said that the day after a large and peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration on May 31 in Lakeland’s Munn Park, amid national demonstrations and sporadic violence over George Floyd’s death. Lakeland’s protest occurred without incident or significant uniformed police presence.

A few hours later, at an intersection far from Munn Park, a brief confrontation occurred between a handful of more rowdy protestors and a car. The protestors were clearly at fault. This led to Lakeland police and the Polk Sheriff’s Office forcibly clearing the intersection, which was caught on video and replayed often. No one was hurt. The intersection issue led Sheriff Judd to issue a sloppy and inaccurate declaration of emergency and impose a curfew.

Here’s my detailed firsthand account of what happened that the day. (I was there, observing, not protesting, FWIW.)

The next day, at a press conference, Sheriff Judd gave his made-for-TV Grady “gun” riff, talking directly to non-existent “Antifa” hordes that he claimed were a threat to attack Polk County neighborhoods on June 1.

The sheriff’s words went viral, of course, stealing the spotlight and cameras from the very calm professionalism of Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia, whose officers had jurisdiction on May 31 and did most of the skillful and measured work of protection.

Sheriff Judd’s statement did not deter “Antifa,” which does not exist as an “organization” anywhere — nor as a loose collection of individual threats in Polk County.

Instead, it endangered Polk County’s flesh and blood, law-abiding kids and young adults, especially kids and young adults of color, walking home from work. Young people without capital and cars and insurance often need to traverse many neighborhoods to pursue their American Dream, or just to live.

Sheriff Judd’s statement on June 1 is one of the most irresponsible and inciting public statements at a sensitive moment by a famous person in a position of power that I’ve ever seen. The arrest of Deputy Heneen makes it even more irresponsible in retrospect.

What did Deputy Heneen hear from his boss, the celebrity?

Put yourself in Deputy Heneen’s head on that night of June 1, 2020.

Do you think he heard his boss encouraging him to “police himself” so he could “police the the community?” Do you think his boss’ many cool quotes over the years — which local TV stations like to curate for fun — encouraged or discouraged him in his alleged declaration that “me and all the other patriots and militias” can “take the fight” to fellow law enforcement officers?

What do you think other officers heard, in the Sheriff’s Office and elsewhere, from a national law enforcement “leader”? Do you think the stormers of the Capitol heard encouragement or discouragement from one of America’s favorite celebrity sheriffs over the years?

Be honest.

If we’re ever going to get out of this horrid cycle, we’re going to have to be honest about the dangerous political radicalization of some American police officers (certainly not all, but not clear how many) — and we’re going to have to strengthen and support those who are not radicalized, like the reporting deputy in this case and the heroic Officer Goodman of the Capitol Police.

And we’re going to have to change incentives at all levels of society. What we ask police to do today — much like teachers — is largely impossible and filled with negative feedback. It is hardly surprising they would become disaffected and anti-social and tempted by violence, even those with the best of intentions. (I’ll have much more to say about that and how we might change it as society.)

Grady Judd is an incredibly important part of this process — much much much more important than me, obviously. His words matter enormously. So what he said the day before the inauguration was important. So was providing the full transcript of the deputies’ texts.

If Grady Judd consistently withdraws his winks of tacit approval from the worst armed elements of our society, it will have an effect. If he reckons with the fact that the very real Trump-flag and Blue Lives Matter-flag waving hordes that tried to interfere with American representative democracy would welcome him as a hero to their rallies, it will have an effect.

I hope he will do both. But I certainly don't have the power to impose it on him.

Sheriff Judd should acknowledge or deny that he was responding to Identity Europa’s hoax

Sheriff Judd could also help start this process of honesty by clearly stating what prompted his statement at the June 1 press conference.

At the time, he cited undocumented, unquoted, unspecified “social media” threats that “Antifa” hordes were planning to swarm residential neighborhoods in Polk County. Of course, no such threat existed. And to my knowledge, no one from the Sheriff’s Office has ever said where that non-existent Antifa neighborhood horde threat came from.

However, on the same day, news broke that Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group, had posed as an anti-fascist group on Twitter and threatened to “move into the residential areas” and “the white hoods” to commit violence. See article here. I suspect the white supremacist hoax is what Sheriff Judd was referring to; but he's welcome to correct me. Or provide any documentation at all. I’ve written this before; and he’s never said I was wrong.

By contrast, Sheriff Judd has now provided detailed confirmation of an armed threat from his own ranks, who may well have been patrolling neighborhoods in our county on the night of June 1, looking for phantoms conjured by white supremacists and his boss, with his finger on the trigger of the awesome state power to legally kill.

Let’s be thankful nothing happened.

The sheriff should come clean about this now; or cite the actual threat. I’ve never seen the sheriff display self-criticism or bravery in public. It would help to show some now.

Yes, the reporting deputy is a brave hero; but why?

This from Judd’s January 19 press conference about Deputy Heneen’s arrest.

“Our deputy who reported this is a hero. That deputy did the right thing — he gave us information on a written threat of a mass shooting or act of terrorism,” Judd said, praising the informant, whom he would not name. Judd did not know his age or how long he has worked at PCSO.

This is absolutely correct.

But the heroism demonstrates something terribly wrong in police culture. It should be a matter of basic common sense to report an unhinged, armed threat like this, with no institutional fear of repercussion.

But that’s not the world or country we inhabit.

Sheriff Judd’s behavior and words certainly suggest that this deputy has put himself at risk with some of his fellow deputies and elements of the community at large. I suspect he’s right.

It’s telling that no one is trotting out this deputy to win well-deserved praise for his heroism. The Capitol insurrection/lynch mob showed how quickly people waving the “Blue Lives Matter” flag will turn brutally and violently on “the Blue”. I’m sure some of the reporting deputy’s colleagues think of him as a “traitor” now.

And if Grady Judd takes that threat seriously enough to keep the reporting deputy anonymous, that silence speaks a hell of a lot louder than his bluster about “Antifa” and “protests.” It speaks extraordinarily well of the deputy’s courage and professionalism; but it illustrates a cultural problem that celebrity Grady too often makes worse.

For everyone’s sake, end the Grady show

I don’t think the political terms “left”, “right”, and “center” have any real meaning. But in the sense that people imagine them, Grady Judd is a proud resident of “the right,” which generally fits the overall political makeup of an evolving Polk County, at least for today.

That’s why he’s untouchable as a celebrity politician. He entertains his voters with what they want; and it’s not “the middle,” much less “the left.” No one will vote the Grady Show out of office. And that’s dangerous because impunity is always dangerous. It’s up to Grady, entirely, to “police himself.” (Trust me, I’m easy to ignore. I’m just a voice in the wind.)

Can celebrity Grady police himself? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I don’t know.

But, if his record of public behavior thus far is indicative in any way of his thoughts, on no planet do I think Grady Judd, the celebrity politician, actually means this: “Let’s get away from this fringe on the far right and far left and get back to the middle of this bell curve.”

Grady the Celebrity will have to change if he wants to model that behavior.

Now, Grady Judd the sheriff is a different entity than Grady Judd the celebrity. Grady Judd the sheriff prolifically, but quietly, snatches guns out of people’s houses on Risk Protection Orders while Grady Judd the celebrity blusters on about guns. Sheriff Judd is one of the very rare law enforcement leaders whose public statements are harsher and “to the right” of his actual policing, in my experience.

So perhaps this can mark a turning point, in which Grady’s political and communication talents are channeled in a more inclusive, beneficial direction to support his organizational leadership talents. I am happy and eager to help that process in any way I can with my public voice. I’ve done it before with the Lakeland Police Department. And I will be the loudest praise for Sheriff Judd if real change comes.

The clear indicator will come the next time some terrible act of violence can be vaguely traced to “the left,” whatever that is. Does Grady go on TV in uniform and incite the public, rather than calm it? Does he go on TV, in uniform, for a barely veiled Ron DeSantis campaign event? Or does he stay quiet as a church mouse, as he did post-Election Day and post Insurrection Day?

People consider me a part of “the left,” even though that word has no meaning.

But that label means it’s easy for Grady the celebrity politician to ignore me — and the points-of-view of the 44 percent of his constituents who didn’t vote for Trump. We are all commonly “the left,” as far as the Trump insurrectionist and lynch mob are concerned.

On the other hand, my experience and observation suggests that perhaps Grady the Sheriff cares more than Grady the Celebrity about what his constituents on “the left” think. Now would be a good time to demonstrate it clearly.

Because I know this: while the Grady Show was rocking, drawing big ratings talking about non-existent Antifa threats to my neighborhood, a deputy that I, as a law-abiding constituent, pay, equip, and submit to, was driving around Polk County for god-knows-how-long thinking and saying that my family and I and 44 percent of the Polk public are traitors, who don’t deserve political representation, whose commitment to representative democracy should be killed along with its representatives. And he had the state-sanctioned power to do something about it.

I know Deputy Heneen was a bigger threat to my person and property than “Antifa” phantoms. And I know I’ve spent almost a decade — long before anyone here heard of George Floyd or Antifa — trying to make Sheriff Judd aware of that very real possibility. I’ve done so both publicly and privately — in the hope that he might change his celebrity behavior.

And while I don’t know it, I seriously doubt that Deputy Peter Heneen is unique among police. I hope I’m wrong. But if he was unique, the brave deputy who reported him wouldn't need to be brave.

So maybe Grady should spend a little less time being America’s sheriff and chasing cameras — and a little more time focused on protecting everyone in his county — and his own deputies — from threats foreign and very, very domestic.