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Friday, Aug 01, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Judd off target on sheriffs, ‘stand your ground’

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Sheriff Grady Judd’s news conferences are must-see events. Polk County’s favorite lawman never disappoints. If he ever gets tired of the lawman gig there should be a reality TV show producer waiting with contract in hand.

I mean, who can forget his response a few years back when asked why his deputies shot a suspect 68 times?

“That’s all the bullets we had,” this human quote-machine said.

As entertaining as Sheriff Sound Bite can be, though, sometimes it might be better to tone it down a notch. With that in mind, consider his news release that Florida sheriffs had voted “unanimously” to support the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law as it is written.

The words “as it is written” are the key.

It got quite a bit of traction with pro-stand folks, which would have been fine if that “unanimous” vote was true. As The Tampa Tribune’s William March revealed, though, it wasn’t.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Trib there “was some confusion” when sheriffs voted earlier this month. Gualtieri said he believed he was voting on the “concept” of SYG, which he generally thinks is A-OK.

But he added, “I think there’s room for discussion on possible changes.”

Judd’s release created a false impression around the state and nation. News reports based on the inaccurate release inspired many bloggers and commentators to say, “See! Cops want this law!”

Florida’s prosecuting attorneys don’t want this law, and some other sheriffs in the state basically agree with Gualtieri that lawmakers should be open to some possible changes.

To me, the problem with “stand your ground” is that it assumes everyone will have a clear-headed grasp of imminent danger. It assumes people can make rapid and accurate calculations that the only option is to blow their assailant’s head off.

It does not take into account itchy trigger fingers, or panicked delusions that provoke deadly confrontations where no real danger existed.

We all heard the recording of the Sanford police dispatcher who told George Zimmerman not to pursue Trayvon Martin. Would that night have ended differently if Zimmerman had just gotten back into his car like he was told?

Even state Rep. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored the “stand your ground” law, told me last year that there’s nothing in the statute about “pursue and confront” (his words).

No one should be prosecuted for using deadly force in true self defense, but this law has too much wiggle room. That’s why Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a staunch SYG supporter, said he is open to considering modifications.

That would have been the better quote for Grady Judd, too.

He could have said, “We have a law, and I like it. But it doesn’t have unanimous support and maybe we ought to see if we can make it better.”

That wouldn’t have been up to his usual provocative standards, but it would have the benefit of being accurate.

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