Church and State

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd's mission from God to eliminate obscenity knows no bounds

When Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd asked an undercover detective at the end of 2010 to order a copy of Phillip Greaves' book, The Pedophile's Guide to Love & Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct, he had a special request.

"Make sure he autographs it," Judd said. And with that, the detective mailed a $50 money order to Greaves, who lived in Pueblo, Colo., in exchange for a copy of the book, which had been yanked from earlier that month due to concern about its subject matter. Judd had read about the controversy over the book in a newspaper, and he decided it was time to mete out justice, Polk County style.

On Dec. 8, a copy of the book - Greaves' personal copy - arrived at an "undisclosed location in Polk County, Florida." The detective who ordered it cracked it open and found that it offered advice for pedophiles that ranged from proper condom usage to consent when engaging in sexual activities with minors: "Do not fail to honor your lover and respect the word no as meaning no, and/or stop."

On the blank page adjacent to the table of contents, the author had honored Judd's special request: "For all your encouragement - Phillip R. Greaves 2nd."

Around 7:45 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 20, Greaves was led out of his Colorado home in handcuffs by eight deputies from the Pueblo police department, with two Polk County detectives - one of them his customer - supervising. Greaves was arrested and charged under Florida law for "distribution of obscene materials depicting minors engaged in activities harmful to minors," a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The two Polk County detectives flew back to Florida with Greaves early the next day.

"On Thursday morning, he ate processed turkey in the county jail," Sheriff Judd bragged at one of his many speaking engagements the following month. "It was a special meal because of Christmas, but today, he's back to sandwiches and beans."

The Greaves arrest was only a slight variation on a time-tested formula that the 56-year-old Judd, who's been Polk County sheriff since 2004, has used to rid his jurisdiction of "smut" - or, as his opponents argue, "erotic speech" - by any means necessary. As a vice squad leader in the 1980s, he spearheaded a campaign that pushed every adult business out of the county - an impressive feat, considering that Polk County is home to more than half a million people. In the '90s, when he was a major of special operations in the county sheriff's department, he created a computer crimes division that was behind one of the first Internet obscenity arrests in U.S. history. And since he's been sheriff, he's taken his moral crusade far beyond county lines, never hesitating to impart a triumphant lesson to the media along the way.

"What's wrong with a society that has gotten to the point that we can't arrest child pornographers and child molesters who write a book about how to rape a child?" Judd told the Orlando Sentinel after Greaves was arrested.

Judd, a strict Baptist, envisions himself as one of the few willing to take on the burden of battling obscenity, which he believes endangers children and breeds crime. His detractors, however, see him as an egomaniac and a religious zealot who uses his power to punish thought crimes 
and impose his moral standards upon others.

"I have no problem with Sheriff Judd expressing his opinions about what he thinks the law ought to be," says commercial litagation attorney Kemp Brinson, who runs Polk Law Blog (, a watchdog blog that keeps tabs on legal issues in the county. "The problem I have is when he asserts or pretends the law is what he wants it to be, when it isn't."

Before Polk County was a product of Grady Judd, Grady Judd was a product of Polk County. He was born and raised in Lakeland, a quiet city of nearly 100,000 that opens its city commission meetings with invocations to "the holy name of Jesus Christ." (The practice is currently the subject of a lawsuit by the Atheists of Florida, filed in July of 
last year.)

"We were raised in church," Judd says. "Every time the church doors opened, I 
was there."

Judd's mother was a homemaker who volunteered her time as a Sunday school teacher. His father was a blue-collar worker who also took on the role of music director at Crystal Lake Baptist Church. Judd's parents ensured that neither Grady nor his younger sister, Lee Ann, ever missed a sermon. "My kids probably thought there was a law that you had to go to church on Sunday," Judd's father, Grady Sr., says.

Judd's father regards the chain of events that brought him to Florida as "divine intervention." He was raised in rural Sparta, Tenn., and seeing no future in tending to the family farm after his father died, he hitchhiked to Florida when he was 20 years old. He wasn't sure what he'd find there, but he knew he had an uncle somewhere in Lakeland. Judd Sr. found that uncle and took a job in his window-washing business. He earned $25 a week, most of which he sent back to his mother and six younger siblings. While washing the windows of the Golden Key gift shop downtown, he met the woman who would eventually become his wife. In 1952, a year after arriving in Lakeland, he found work as a mechanic at the Tomlinson Cadillac dealership, where he stayed for the next 46 years.

Grady Curtis Judd Jr., future sheriff of Polk County, was born in March 1954, and as a boy, he idolized his father. "He would have followed me in my tracks wherever I went," Judd Sr. says. "So I always tried to make the right tracks so he would go in the 
right direction."

The young Judd also admired police officers. As a child he would wail on a blow-up punching bag while wearing cowboy boots and a hand-stitched police uniform; as a teen, he absorbed the police drama Adam-12 and asked the local barber to give him "the Pete Malloy." (Today, he regards a hypothetical blend of Andy Griffith and Marshal Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke as "the 
perfect sheriff.")

At 18, Judd joined the Polk County Sheriff's Office, and at 19 he aimed to become the youngest deputy in the force. He interviewed with former Sheriff Monroe Brannen, who asked Judd whether he was married and whether there was "any in the bread basket." Brannen then peered around the desk to see if Judd's shoes were polished. They were. He was hired.

By then, the blueprint for Judd's life was pretty well laid out: He was married at 18, and like his father, insisted that his wife stay home to raise their two kids, so they were raised "the right way." While working full-time he earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Rollins College in 1978; his master's followed in 1981.

Judd worked in every department of the sheriff's office, moving quickly up the ranks due to his work ethic and ambition. He was called by a supervisor "second to no one in loyalty and trust," and his personnel file indicates that he received mostly glowing reviews from his superiors. "Colonel Judd is a tireless worker who continually challenges himself, as well as the people around him," a 2002 evaluation stated. It should be noted that 19 years of performance evaluations are missing from his record, though, including five years from the '70s, eight years from the '80s and six years in the '90s. Lori Van Ness, human resources director for the Polk County Sheriff's Office, cited several reasons for the incomplete file: There was a period in which formal evaluations of those ranked captain and above were not conducted, she says, and also points out the sins of former Sheriff Dan Daniels, who, in his short reign between 1985 and 1987, destroyed public records and forbade his staff from talking to reporters (whom he regarded as "slugs" and "cockroaches").

Judd says he doesn't remember being disciplined at all in his 38-year career with the Polk County Sheriff's Office, although Judd's personnel file indicates that two letters of reprimand were issued to him in 1979 - 
letters that the sheriff's office could not produce. But Judd says he's not the kind of guy to get into trouble: "I'm anal about everything in life," he says. "I've always tried to 
just behave."

Judd says he respects his "honest critics," but when asked to name a specific individual, he draws a blank. He also says he's willing to admit his mistakes, but when pressed he can't name one of those, either.

Attorney Lawrence Walters, on the other hand, can tick off plenty of things he thinks Judd's done that should be considered misdeeds - and all of them fall squarely under one umbrella.

"There is a concerted effort to squelch First Amendment-protected speech in Polk County," he says. "It all emanates from Judd."

Walters, who operates Walters Law Group, a law firm in Altamonte Springs specializing in First Amendment cases, says there hasn't been a month in the past 15 years that he hasn't had a case pending with the Polk County Sheriff's Office, almost all of which have involved people accused of distributing "obscene materials."

Though obscenity is legally determined by a method devised by the Supreme Court, much of what is defined as obscene depends on the "community standards" in the area in which the charge is brought. In other words, a video that can be legally sold in New York may be illegal in Polk County. And once a form of expression is adjudicated as obscene, the First Amendment no longer protects it.

Walters says that, of the many obscenity-based charges Judd has brought directly or indirectly against his clients, none of them has ever gone before a jury. He says that's because Judd and his allies in the State Attorney's Office have devised a strategy that ensures that no one will ever want to take their cases to court: They intimidate their targets with hefty charges, then follow up with what seem like comparatively generous plea bargains.

"It worked very effectively," Walters says. "Without any due process, without anything other than muscle flexing, threats and bad-faith prosecution." As an example of how this works, he explains what happened in the case of Tammy Robinson, a Lakeland woman who was arrested in March 1999 for operating a website that allowed paying users to view nude photos of her. The case was handled by the Polk County Sheriff's Computer Crimes Unit, which was created by Judd in 1995 when he was major of special operations and the Internet was still in its infancy.

The county didn't go looking for Robinson - rather, she had turned to the Polk County Sheriff's Office for help after she received a death threat from someone who described her home in detail and told her that she'd be forced to watch the rape and murder of her three young children. She had originally taken her complaint to the FBI, but the agency told her to contact local authorities.

Once the Polk County Computer Crimes Unit had a copy of the threat, which had been sent via e-mail in response to Robinson's website, investigators decided her online activities were more unsettling than the death threat. She and her husband were arrested - Walters says that a team of officers forced her from the shower and "paraded her around naked," laughing and cheering - and charged with wholesale promotion of obscene materials. Each faced up to five years in prison. Walters' firm responded with a federal civil rights lawsuit against Charlie Gates, the detective in charge of the case.

In January 2001, both parties dropped their respective lawsuits, but the sheriff's office came out of the fight the victor in the battle: The Robinsons paid $2,000 to the county to cover the cost of the investigation and agreed not to be connected with a "sexually oriented" business within the three counties that make up the 10th Judicial Circuit, which includes Polk County. By then, Robinson's husband had already lost his job at Publix, and Walters' firm had spent more than half a million dollars in legal fees on the case.

After the settlement, the Robinsons moved to the Tampa Bay area and resumed operation of the website from there. They could not be reached for comment.

Walters was called to Polk County again in October 2005, a year after Judd was first elected sheriff, when Lakeland man Christopher Wilson was arrested on similar charges over a website he operated called The site allowed free access to pornographic images for U.S. soldiers who sent in photos from the battlefield, and it received national attention for its portrayal of the grisly realities of war. Rolling Stone, for instance, reported that the website contained a "severed head floating in a bowl of blood" and "a child with bloody pulp where his face used to be."

Sheriff Judd was able to overlook the dismembered limbs and mangled bodies, but he found the run-of-the-mill pornography on the site - a man having anal sex with a woman, a man ejaculating onto a woman's face - unacceptable. "Normal people don't have the ability to imagine how perverse and horrific these images were," Judd told The Ledger newspaper at the time. "It certainly is content that shocks the community."

Wilson was charged with 100 counts of distribution or transmission of obscene materials, 100 counts of offering to distribute or transmit obscene materials and 100 counts of possession of obscene materials. In addition to those 300 charges, 200 of which carried a maximum sentence of one year in prison, he also received the same felony charge that was slapped on the Robinsons.

Wilson, who declined to comment on the matter, was booked into jail on a Friday evening, just before a three-day weekend. Not only were all the banks closed, Walters says, but "we couldn't find a bondsman that would sit there for four hours and write 300 bonds." Walters guesses that the sheriff's office knew full well this would happen and accuses Judd's people of "charge stacking" to make it harder for Wilson to be released.

Chip Thullberry, spokesperson for the Polk State Attorney's Office, doesn't disagree. "Perhaps it's a tactical decision on our part, but one that's perfectly legal," he says. (Brad Copley, Judd's main ally in the State Attorney's Office, was unavailable for comment.)

In the end, the county worked out a deal with Wilson nearly identical to the one it had worked out with the Robinsons: The State Attorney's Office would drop all but five of the misdemeanor charges, provided that Wilson would shut down his website, agree not to create a similar website within the next five years and pay the $3,785.56 it cost the county to investigate the case.

Walters is not yet involved in Judd's latest obscenity case - the one against Phillip Greaves - but he says he may "take a more active role" in that case in the future. He's hoping that if the Greaves case goes to court, it will end in a federal injunction against Grady Judd for violating First Amendment rights.

"This Greaves case may be the last 
straw," he says.

In 1987, Polk County had 33 lingerie modeling and escort services, 14 adult video stores, three adult theaters and two nude entertainment establishments.

Today there are none, thanks mostly to Grady Judd.

When Judd was a major with Polk County's Special Investigations Division in the late 1980s, he had tried in vain to rid the county of any business he felt was "peddling obscene materials."

"Most of the charges were misdemeanors and went to misdemeanor prosecutors that didn't know what they were doing," Judd says. "We just had no luck at all."

He says that adult-business store owners taunted him with the idea that the stretch of Highway 92 between Lakeland and Auburn-dale could eventually host an adult-business sector resembling that of Orlando's Orange Blossom Trail, a seedy strip punctuated by windowless buildings, oversized neon signs, barbed-wire fences and the occasional prostitute pounding the pavement.

"I said no, no it's not," Judd recalls. "In fact, it's not going to exist at all."

That year, Judd successfully pressed the Board of County Commissioners to enact a zoning ordinance to make it difficult for new adult businesses to set up shop.

Then, Judd and his allies in the State Attorney's Office found a legal way to impose harsher penalties against businesses that did operate in the area: the Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) act. Modeled on a 1970 federal act originally devised to control organized crime, Florida's version of the act allowed prosecutors to transform obscenity misdemeanors into a "pattern of racketeering activity," which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years 
in prison.

With that tool in hand, Judd and the State Attorney's Office were able to rid Polk County of every last adult business without ever having to go to court. The sheriff's office would file charges against an establishment, then follow up with an offer to drop the charges provided that the business owner agreed to shut down. It worked like a charm. Between 1987 and 2002, more than 100 adult businesses took a plea deal, left voluntarily or were evicted by a landlord who faced similar charges for renting to an adult business.

Judd and his allies say that the fact the defendants pled was an indication of their guilt; but others, including Tampa attorney Luke Lirot, called it the logical outcome of an intimidation tactic. Lirot characterizes it this way: "We'll pick up the sledgehammer if you go away and take your First Amendment rights with you."

In 1997, the City of Lakeland passed an adult-business zoning ordinance that - like the one in Polk County - made it nearly impossible to open a new adult-entertainment establishment. Still, Lirot was able to secure a license (Adult Entertainment License #01, the first and last to ever be issued) that year for a man named Robert Gluck who wanted to open a video store with an adult-video section in an old 7-Eleven off of Highway 98 near I-4. Lirot says it wasn't long before Polk deputies arrived at the store.

Despite the fact that they had a Lakeland license permitting them to run an adult business, Gluck and his wife were charged by the Polk County Sheriff's Office with wholesale distribution of obscene materials under the state RICO Act. "It was a very, very, very uncomfortable situation for them," Lirot says, adding that Robert Gluck has since passed away. "Tangibly, it had an adverse affect on their health, and I think it accelerated their demise."

Judd's campaign against obscenity was not limited to the people who sold adult material - it also pursued the people who consumed it. In 1996, Polk deputies came to the Video Xtra, a mom-and-pop video store with an adult section, and seized a computer that contained the personal information of hundreds of customers. It was one of Lawrence Walters' first cases involving the Polk County Sheriff's Office. He filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 256 people, charging that the sheriff's office violated the federal Video Privacy Protection Act.

It was but a minor snag in Judd's otherwise smooth operation - Walters dropped his case when the sheriff's office dropped its prosecutions, but that didn't stop Judd from pushing forward with his war on filth.

"The Purge," as Lirot calls it, ended officially on June 30, 2002, when the Varsity Adult Bookstore, the last remaining adult business in Polk County, closed down. By then, Judd was a colonel of administration and one of the sheriff's right-hand men. He stood with some members of the vice squad in the Varsity parking lot that night to make sure the business closed on time. The next day he posed in front of the building, stripped of its signage, for a picture. "Quite frankly, it was an honor and a privilege to put them out of business," Judd says.

To Grady Judd, the campaign was necessary for the good of the county. He attributes Polk County's 2010 crime rate of 2.97 crimes per 100 residents - an all-time low since the county started keeping statistics in 1971 - partly to the lack of adult businesses. "Traditionally, any time you have those types of establishments, you'll see a decrease in property value and an increase in the crime rate," he says.

Perhaps most importantly, Judd and the State Attorney's Office ensured that such businesses could never return. Part of almost every plea deal involved a deed restriction on the property that barred a similar business from taking its place. It was a clever tactic, one of the reasons Lirot says that even if he disagrees with him, he respects Judd.

"If you look at it from the standpoint of The Art of War, he achieves his goals," Lirot says. "You annihilate your enemy."

The last traces of even mildly adult material in any Polk County business were eliminated in 2004, when stores featuring "Playmate" videos - ones featuring an individual female, usually only topless - began getting visits from Polk County deputies who threatened racketeering and obscenity charges. Considering the tepid nature of the videos, Lirot thought a lawsuit against the Polk County Sheriff's Office would be easy to win. But no one took him up on his offer to represent them in such a case.

"They didn't even want free legal representation, they were so frightened," Lirot says. "Obviously, the chilling effect was in the wind."

Grady Judd looks out upon a spacious ballroom where more than 100 of his fans have gathered. They hang on his every word. On this bleak January day, his audience is the retirement community of Lake Ashton, and the topic is Phillip Greaves.

"Was it OK for me to arrest him?" he asks the crowd. They cheer and applaud. One woman emphatically shouts "Yes!" Judd continues.

"People who commit crime like to hide behind the First Amendment," he says. "But the First Amendment doesn't allow you to yell ‘Fire!' in a theater, doesn't allow you to threaten the president and sure doesn't allow you talk about bombs on an airplane. So why should you be able to write a manifesto on how to sexually batter children?"

It's an oft-used statement that irks Brinson. Brinson argues that the fact that Judd calls Greaves' book a "manifesto" - which is defined as a statement that has some public importance -­ gives credence to the notion that the work could be protected by the First Amendment on the grounds that it has some political component. Therefore, Brinson says, prosecutors who work on the case would have to essentially create arguments that contradict Judd's statements.

"He's said a number of things that, as an attorney, you literally wince at," 
Brinson says.

But Judd seems less concerned with how his statements could be used against him in court than how they sit with his electorate. Take, for instance, the statements he made about the case of Angilo Freeland, a man who murdered a Polk deputy in 2006, then fled. A team carrying automatic weapons was sent on a manhunt to track Freeland down; when they found him, they shot Freeland 68 times (110 bullet casings total were discovered at the scene). When asked by a reporter why the deputies needed so many bullets to take down one man, Judd replied: "I suspect the only reason 110 rounds was all that was fired was that's all the ammunition 
they had."

It may seem like a callous remark, but it's that off-the-cuff candidness that makes him so popular in Polk County, according to Ashlei Aycock, a crime prevention specialist for the sheriff's office, who was in attendance at the January event at Lake Ashton.

"He tells it like it is, and he's got a good personality," she says. "He talks to us like regular people and knows our names, which not all sheriffs do."

Judd's affability and accessibility stands in stark contrast to the demeanor of his predecessor, Lawrence Crow, a soft-spoken introvert who rarely held press conferences. Before Crow, the county sheriff was Dan Daniels, who left the office in disgrace in 1987 after being investigated by a grand jury for accusations of misconduct and mishandling public funds.

"Grady's cut it," says J. Marion Moorman, the Polk County public defender. "I think he very accurately reflects the thinking of the typical Polk County voter."

At the Lake Ashton event, Aycock guesses that two-thirds of the crowd is there solely because of Judd. When he takes the stage, he receives a standing ovation and a cheer of "Whooo loves the sheriff?"

Moving through the crowd, Judd spots a man wearing a T-shirt bearing an illustrated bullet hole in the back accompanied by this quote: "Why 68 Times? ‘Because We Ran Out of Bullets!' -Sheriff Grady Judd."

Judd pauses, places his hand on the man's back, leans over and says: "Nice shirt."


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