Florida's Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is being sued by a man who says he was denied entry to a shelter unless he went through a background check.
Before the storm, Judd gained attention on Twitter for implying he would arrest any individual with an outstanding warrant who came to seek shelter from Hurricane Irma.
"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," Judd wrote on Sept. 6. He added one hour later: "If you have a warrant, turn yourself in to the jail -- it's a secure shelter."
Judd claimed that the precautions were to prevent sex offenders from coming to shelters (where there would be families). However, the suit filed against Judd is not from a sex offender, but rather from Nexus Services, a law firm that often takes up pro bono cases for immigrants.
Nexus filed the suit along with their risk manager, Andres Borreno, who had been helping ferry undocumented immigrants to shelters, NBC reports.
Borreno had taken the families to Chain of Lakes, an elementary school near Tampa Bay that was operating as a shelter from Hurricane Irma. Nexus Chief Executive Mike Donovan said that Borreno was told that he and the families would have to show their IDs and undergo warrant and background checks in order to enter the shelter.
Donovan said that Nexus had heard of Judd's background checks but that the firm wasn't sure if they would actually be conducting them.
Rather than submit the families to background checks, Borreno sent them to Osceola County, according to NBC.
According to Nexus and Borreno's suit, Judd's background checks are not necessary to weed out sex offenders, since that sex offender status is already indicated on Florida driver's licenses.
"Sheriff Judd's true motives are clear," the suit states, according to The Washington Post. "The purpose of these pedestrian 'checkpoints' is to conduct a fishing expedition to find any possible basis, no matter how tenuous, for issuing citations to or arresting human beings seeking refuge from a Class 5 hurricane."
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Judd called the lawsuit "frivolous."
"We check everyone who comes to a shelter to ensure they aren't a sexual predator or a child sexual offender," he said. "We are absolutely not going to let a sexual predator or a child sexual offender sleep next to a child in a storm shelter."
The Washington Post reports that Scott Wilder, director of communications for the sheriff's department, defended Judd's statements.
"If, while manning a shelter, we are made aware of someone with an active warrant during a hurricane, or walking down the street, or in a store, we have to place them under arrest. A storm doesn't give someone a free pass to violate the law."
Wilder also said that there are about 8,000 active warrants in Polk County.
Borreno's attorney, Mario Williams, told The Washington Post that it's not helpful to have a "protectionist policy" during a life-threatening storm, and that law enforcement should instead be "ushering and saving and protecting as many people as possible."
In regards to the suit's ultimate goal, Williams said: "We're just trying to get [Judd] to stop doing it. And then, honestly, even after all this is all over, I'm still going forward. I want this kind of practice declared unlawful."