National Security

Florida sheriff miffed at ‘very forgiving criminal justice system’

Polk County, Florida Sheriff Grady Judd took to the podium to herald his deputies and sound off on the lopsided criminal justice system.

A favored Florida lawman, Polk County, Florida Sheriff Grady Judd is one to always tell it like it is.

He is one of those rightly-placed figures who folks either love (truth-seekers) or detest (those outed by his press conference facts). His county’s jurisdiction is vast, one of the largest among Florida’s 67 counties, smack dab in the middle of the Sunshine State. That means his law enforcement deputies have lots of ground to cover and their beat is populated aplenty.

Polk County is often referred to as “the meth capital of Florida.” Some among the populace do not play nice. In other words: tweaking and guns do not mix.

Such was the case recently when Polk County deputies responded to 9-1-1 calls regarding a man standing in a public street in quaint Poinciana, opening fire on another man and his wife sitting in a car. The male driver was mortally wounded; his wife, Brenda, is in the hospital with “at least seven bullet holes,” according to Sheriff Judd.

What lead to this shooting?

Reports indicate that Rudy “Shorty” Arenas, 40, elicited Orlando Riviera-Vasquez to meet him on Finch Lane, claiming “I’ve got something to show you.” Curiosity piqued, Riviera-Vasquez apparently obliged and boarded his wife along for the ride.

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Once together, the two men stood in plain air as Shorty showed off a wad of cash. Seems Riviera-Vasquez was unimpressed and walked back to his car to leave, mentioning he needed to go feed his children. Shorty took exception to being snubbed over his bankroll, brandished a firearm, and followed Riviera-Vasquez to his car. Inexplicably, Shorty sprayed bullets into the vehicle.

Riviera-Vasquez, a convicted felon who beat a murder wrap because the criminal justice system decided to nollo pros (decline to prosecute) the case, died at the scene. His wife, who likely thought she and her husband were going out for a casual cruise, was shot while she sat defenseless in the passenger seat. Shorty fled the scene and was holed up in the house of relatives who, police later confirmed, fled out the back door as soon as Shorty showed his face/gun.

That left Shorty on his own. But Shorty’s daughter knew of his whereabouts (right next to her in her car) and did the right thing: she was able to contact the sheriff’s office and provide the address. Patrol deputies caught up with the car outside the address and launched a felony stop. Shorty was long on running and did exactly that, into the house.

Polk County SWAT operatives arrived along with police negotiators. A barricaded suspect standoff unfolded. As often is the case, some dialogue was started. Shorty waved his pistol around, mostly pointing it at and against his temple, boasting he was going to shoot himself if law enforcement didn’t pack up and go bye-bye.

Seeing cops were not complying, Shorty started to wave the gun around while claiming he was going to shoot deputies outside the residence. Negotiators calmed him enough and offered him an olive branch (a cigarette), hoping to garner some rapport, de-escalate the menace, and secure peaceful surrender.

A sheriff’s office robot was deployed and effectively maneuvered to pass Shorty a cigarette. Camera-equipped, deputies were able to scan the inside and get close-ups of Shorty and the lay of the land inside.

As time transpired, Shorty maintained the nature of a strung-out drug addict armed with a firearm and an unappealing attitude. Things didn’t go well for Shorty.

Things went better for law enforcement officers involved in this “bizarre” incident. Sheriff Judd commenced his press conference on what went down and how his agency handled the byproduct of so-called “low-level, non-violent” drug behavior “that the Florida Senate doesn’t think we put people in jail long enough for…or they think they we put them in too long and they want to reduce the sentence.”

This is where Sheriff Judd shows his typically true-blue colors, lambasting elements of the political system and the rhetorical criminal justice reforms which only serve to coddle bad guys while law and order is made to take a back seat. His tone is pretty acerbic, but he is right on point, holding nothing back. Judd talks about “things like drugs… drugs…more drugs” with the drippy sarcasm employed in an excellent Improv act. Except…he is for real.

Enough teasing. Let’s just watch the 15-minute-long video of Sheriff Judd’s conference, with particular attention to how he feels about the ridiculousness of a soft-on-crime system under which he and his deputies operate. Albeit retired from law enforcement, I know the feeling of the proverbial revolving door, the frequent flyers, the arrestees who confidently said “See ya next time, officer.” Too many of those were correct.

Judd colorizes a bleak picture…yet he and his deputies come back to do their duty on the daily. Check this out:

Sheriff Grady Judd is briefing the media about a deputy-involved shooting/SWAT callout on Wood Lane in Poinciana. No PCSO deputies were injured. One suspect is deceased.

Posted by Polk County Sheriff's Office on Monday, February 17, 2020

meet the author

Stephen Owsinski is a LifeZette contributing editor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is also a columnist for the National Police Association.

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