A man in Colorado a couple of months ago published a book called The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure, and he didn't get arrested for it, and this made Grady Judd mad.
So the sheriff of Polk County, whose job is to protect and serve the roughly 500,000 people who live in the mostly agricultural area between Tampa and Orlando, had one of his undercover detectives contact Phillip Greaves of Pueblo, Colo., and ask to buy his book. Greaves sent a signed copy back to Polk, where Judd got a search warrant, and then sent two of his men 1,856 miles to arrest him the week before Christmas.
After the news broke, Judd sat in the studio of a country radio station in Lakeland and told two nodding disc jockeys, "He had porn plastered — ugly, nasty porn — plastered all over his room.
"I mean," he added, leaning in toward the microphone, "he's a real weeeiiirdo."
The episode was no surprise to those who have watched the public ascent of this man's career. Judd, who turns 57 next month, envisions himself as not just a local enforcer of laws but a more universal arbiter of morals. He inserts himself into some of the most sensitive fissures in the country's culture wars, a "true believer," as his friends say, or a savvy opportunist, or both, and then goes on television to state his case. It has made him a face on a screen as much as a man in a uniform.
How did Grady Judd become Sheriff America?
Is it because his mother was a Sunday school teacher? Is it because he counts as two of his closest friends a Catholic priest and a Baptist pastor? Is it because he keeps a Bible on his desk?
Is it because he has planted at the base of his driveway a sign that says MAYBERRY?
Judd won't say, but his son will: "I think it has to do with honestly just the strong belief of what's right and what's wrong," said Graham Judd, 30, the younger of his two boys. "He's been quoted as saying the only time there's a gray area is when people try to justify their wrong actions."
"The old American lifestyle has gotten lost a little bit," said Randy Wilkinson, a former county commissioner who went to Lakeland High School with Judd. "I would say a lot of what he does is to try to reclaim that innocence."
Judd's dad was the service manager at Tomlinson Cadillac, his mom was a lifelong homemaker, and the boy that family and friends called Corky wanted to be sheriff. He played cops and robbers. He hummed the theme from Dragnet. In school, he was gangly and studious, with glasses with thick black frames. He played no sports. He was not a class officer. His only extracurricular activity was Future Farmers of America. He made enough money to buy a 1970 Chevy Nova by delivering the local newspaper, building septic systems and working on an ambulance crew in Winter Haven. He married his high school steady when he was 18 years old.
He started at the Sheriff's Office as a 6-foot-2, 180-pound recent Lakeland graduate, a dispatcher making $5.48 an hour. He was eager to advance, getting degrees from Polk Community College and Rollins in Orange County and writing letters to his superiors, making suggestions and applying for higher positions. Notes came back: "at a later date," "at the proper time." But it worked: Judd was a deputy at 19, a corporal at 22, a sergeant at 23, a lieutenant at 25, a captain at 27. People called him a workaholic. "Recognizes the importance of appearance," his boss once wrote.
Decades before he became sheriff, he was a leader within the agency's vice squad — the de facto spokesman, too — using laws on lewdness, obscenity and racketeering to close more than 100 strip clubs, escort services, massage parlors and adult video and bookstores. His goal was to rid the 2,010-square-mile county of what he called "smut and dirt."
Then came the Internet.
A slender trucker nicknamed Slick Rick had a side business in which 20 people paid him $40 a year to look at pictures of naked adults having sex. He did this from his master bedroom. It was 1995. The sheriff's detectives in their probable cause affidavit had trouble describing what Slick Rick was doing.
"The method of transporting a picture through a computer modem," they wrote, "is referred to as 'downloading' …" Strange words had to be put inside quotes. "Files." "Saved."
"This pornography," Judd told reporters, "was easily accessible to anyone with a computer."
It looks in retrospect like a moment of wide-eyed recognition.
"With the proliferation of computers," Judd added, "we have a proliferation of computer crime."
Nine years later, he was elected sheriff, winning 64 percent of the vote in a three-man race. He called it "God's will."
• • •
Polk County is still a citrus-scented open space surrounded by Tampa and its famous strip clubs and Orlando and its iconic fantasy lands. Compared to America as a whole, it's a little more white, a little more poor, a little less educated. Nailed to trunks of trees on sides of roads are handmade placards that say JESUS SAVES. The courtrooms ban "sexually suggestive" dress and hair that is "unusual."
Judd has never lived anywhere else.
As sheriff, backed by a like-minded State Attorney's Office, Judd has made the signature of his administration child porn stings, Craigslist prostitution stings and so-called cyberstings modeled after NBC's To Catch a Predator. His undercover detectives pose online as teen girls to let men talk dirty to them. He arrested a swim coach from North Carolina. He arrested a man from Orlando who earlier had been called a hero for rescuing people from a plane crash. He arrested in Maryland a 57-year-old deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.
Almost all these men live somewhere else. Judd brings them to Polk County.
"These deviants never learn," he once said.
In 2007, commenting on a case in which he had arrested a man who was running a porn site out of his home in Polk, he said: "No normal person could even imagine what's depicted in those videos and in those photographs." A sexual behavior expert from the University of Central Florida said in a motion in the man's court file that it was run-of-the-mill erotica available anywhere on the Internet to anyone who wanted it.
"Normal people," Judd insisted, "don't have the ability to imagine how perverse and horrific these images were."
All of this has gotten him on Tampa TV, Orlando TV, Fox News, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and CNN.
His certitude plays well on the screen. He uses words like "never," "ever" and "absolutely." He sends "messages" and calls for "outrage." He traffics in vivid images and stark contrasts. Drug dealers are thugs. Inmates are criminals. Sex offenders are perverts. And they don't just show up. They show up with "condoms in one hand and candy bars in the other." As for his critics? "Radical, mean-spirited dissidents," he told Bay News 9 last year.
He was re-elected in 2008 in a landslide. His supporters say he'll be Polk County's sheriff for as long as he wants to be. So do his critics.
• • •
The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure, an amateurish self-published book available on Amazon.com until it was taken down due to public outcry, has sections labeled Two Tales of Pedophilia, What Can Be Learned and the Roots of Pedophilia. There are no pictures. "My purpose," Greaves wrote, according to the arrest report, "is to make these encounters as safe as possible for juveniles finding themselves in these situations. I hope to achieve this end by establishing certain rules for pedophiles and by appealing to their better selves."
Authorities in Colorado considered the book distasteful, but not illegal, citing the freedom of speech ensured by the Constitution's First Amendment.
"There are a lot of people out there who write pretty graphic things," said Daniel Anderson, a Pueblo police detective. If everybody like Greaves got arrested, he said, "you'd be arresting a lot of people."
Now Greaves, 48, is in jail in Polk County, waiting for trial on charges of distribution of obscenity. His next hearing is early next month.
"There's a lot to work with on the defense side," Polk public defender Geoff Foster said. "We're talking about some pretty pure First Amendment activity that's been attacked by Florida law enforcement."
"This guy," First Amendment attorney Larry Walters of Altamonte Springs said of Judd, "has been abusing people's constitutional rights for 15, 20 years. He has a real hostility toward sexual expression. Anything erotic he assumes to be illegal.
"This gets dangerously close to thought police," he said.
Many in America, judging from the e-mails Judd has received since the arrest of Greaves, have no problem with that. They come from all over, from the Carolinas to Texas to Washington state, and almost all of them call him a hero and a patriot.
"It's amazing to think that this once God-fearing country has fallen so far. I pray God's blessing and strength on you as you try to do the right thing."
"Thank you for continuing to stand up and do the right thing."
"One man in the land taking a stand. No middle ground about it."
Judd's stock response: "Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to forward me your thoughts. I appreciate your support more than you know. Nothing is more precious than our children. Keeping them safe is my top priority."
He's more than willing to talk, and talk and talk, when the topic of the protection of children is beneficial to him, which, of course, it almost always is.
In 2002, a deputy who later was convicted of giving teen boys anal probes on a steel table in his home was involved in an unnecessary wee-hours high-speed pursuit in an undercover car that never flashed its lights, resulting in the death of a 16-year-old boy. The agency's investigation into the incident, a St. Petersburg Times report showed, was shoddy at best. Judd wasn't yet sheriff, but he was a high-ranking administrator involved in the agency's response to the family's civil suit.
He has never commented publicly about the case.
• • •
He had plenty to say one recent Saturday morning in Lakeland when he teamed up with Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem for a charity motorcycle ride to raise money for the family of a deputy who recently was killed in a car wreck.
He wore shiny black shoes and politicked his way through the parking lot in front of a WingHouse before stopping to do an interview with local TV.
"The folks here," Judd told the man with the camera, "are real Americans."
He is slim-shouldered and bird-chested, and his eyeglasses are rimless and plain, but Judd's hand is just about perpetually outstretched. He is a master of frictionless blips of interaction — "How y'all doin'?" "Good to see you!" "Y'all be safe!" — and typically they end with a cell phone snapshot. Every smile is the same.
As he made his way from one end of the parking lot to the other, women hugged him and told him they loved him, men approached him and said they just had to shake his hand, and one wore a shirt that said SHERIFF JUDD FOR PRESIDENT.
Judd posed for pictures with Bubba.
"Bubba'll have something to talk about Monday morning," he told the crowd.
Somebody asked Bubba which team he wanted to win the Super Bowl. Packers, Bubba said. Somebody else asked Judd the same. "I'm political," he said. "I love them both."
Bubba grabbed a microphone and introduced Judd. "I wish we could get Rick Scott out and make him governor," Bubba said.
The crowd hollered and cheered.
Judd took the microphone: "I'd rather be president. Then we'd have some real change!"
"No," he said. "Really all I want to be is sheriff of Polk County.
"You know what?" he continued. "This is real America. This is normal America."
Time to ride. The hundreds of men and women dressed in boots and black leather got on their bikes and revved their motors. The lot got loud. Judd climbed into a sheriff's cruiser and stuck his hand out the window to give a thumbs up.
He pointed the way ahead. All that noise followed.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8751.