Hurricane Irma: Polk sheriff warns IDs will be checked at evacuation shelters

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. [Times (2016)]
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. [Times (2016)]
Published Sept. 6, 2017

Hurricane Irma's potential landfall is still days away, but the Polk County Sheriff's Office made minor online waves Wednesday morning with a pair of tweets warning sex offenders and citizens with arrest warrants against seeking refuge in local storm shelters.

In the event that a serious storm event causes local shelters to open, the account tweeted, "If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed."

A later tweet followed up, "If you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we'll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail."

The second tweet received over one thousand replies, many of which were critical of the Sheriff' Grady Judd's pronouncement.

Patrick Monahan, a Twitter comedian, tweeted back, "This definitely won't cause anyone to try to ride out the storm because they have too many unpaid parking tickets or whatever. Good job."

But public information officer Carrie Eleazer Horstman, who authored the tweet on behalf of the Sheriff's Office, said her office was merely trying to give people fair warning about longstanding policies.

"I was just trying to keep people informed ahead of time," Horstman said in an interview. "We can't allow sexual predators in the centers and shelters."

Asked whether the office is worried the tweets might discourage some from seeking shelter, Horstman noted that the office would be held responsible if they allowed sexual predators to share shelter with children and families or if they failed to arrest someone who they knew had an outstanding warrant.

"We see that people [on Twitter] are upset, but the bottom line is the shelters are here to protect people and we want people to be safe," Horstman said. "If you have a warrant, turn yourself into the jail and if you are a predator, find somewhere to go."