The overzealous efforts of one Florida sheriff have resulted in a messy lawsuit after the officer allegedly subjected shelter seekers to background checks before offering refuge from the torrenting winds of Hurricane Irma.
One Virginian man, denied access to a Florida shelter Saturday, has launched a lawsuit against Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, claiming that he forced those seeking refuge during a natural disaster to undergo background checks, which the plaintiff believes is unconstitutional.
Andres Barreno, the man behind the legal action, argues that the officer took advantage of a horrible situation and overstepped his boundaries "misusing emergency shelters as unlawful pedestrian checkpoints to conduct suspicionless warrant/criminal background checks on human beings desperate for shelter."
Borreno, 31, who works as a risk manager for Nexus, a legal organization which aids undocumented immigrants, traveled to Florida Saturday in order to assist clients in their quests for shelter, according to NBC News.
The risk manager went to Chain of Lakes Elementary School in Tampa Bay, which was being used as a shelter for families, to ensure that his clients were receiving equal treatment and finding shelter.
He was asked to provide ID and submit to a warrant and background check, which he refused to do, deciding instead to send the families to Osceola County.
“There are places for aggressive policing," Donovan said. "This is not the time to score political points. This is the time to make sure your people are safe."
From his Twitter account, the sheriff announced a week ago his plan to implement security measures, stating that anyone found with a warrant in their name would be escorted to the shelter of the Polk County Jail to weather out the storm.
"Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed," Judd wrote, stating in a second tweet, "If you have a warrant, turn yourself into the jail — it’s a secure shelter.”
The court has so far failed to determine whether Barreno had a warrant against him at the time as well as which shelter he attempted to access.
Judd immediately dismissed the legal action against him Sunday, saying, “They filed that lawsuit for free press and it’s obviously frivolous.”
According to spokesperson Carrie Horstman, they have been in “hurricane recovery mode” and are only responding to “breaking news inquiries” connected to the storm, so they had not read the details of the lawsuit issued Sunday.
However, the claim reads: "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 problem is that these searches and seizure are not based on any suspicion of criminal conduct. Suspicion is not raised by trying to gain entry into an emergency shelter to save one’s life and the lives of family members."
The lawsuit details three federal claims, one of which is unlawful search and seizure.