Florida Sheriff Grady Judd Says Police Response Was ‘Complete and Total Failure’

It has been nearly a month since the May 24 shooting at Rob Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 children and two teachers dead.

In that time, scant information has been provided by law enforcement officials and what little that has been released is often in conflict with other information and sometimes statements that were issued only to be withdrawn just hours later. However, the outspoken sheriff of Polk County, Florida, is unequivocal in his opinion that “the police response was a complete and total failure.”

“First, my heart is crushed,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told The Epoch Times. “There aren’t adequate words to express my feelings about the absolute massacre of those children, those babies, at that elementary school, and their teachers.

“I am equally as angry at the lack of an appropriate police response. That was an active shooter. He shot children who lay on the floor bleeding and I am certain some of them probably died during that interim period while police stood outside in the hallway as opposed to immediately charging in,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
At a March 16 press conference, Sheriff Grady Judd shares that 108 people were arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Vice Unit during a six-day undercover human trafficking operation, “Operation March Sadness 2,”  which began on March 8, 2022. (Courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff’s Department)

According to Judd, the police response in Uvalde was “contrary to all of the training” provided to deputies in his office and he suggested it was equally contrary to the training that police agencies are given in Texas and across the nation.

“At the end of the day, the police response was a complete and total failure,” Judd asserted, conceding that while he was basing his opinion on review of information coming out in the media, he believes there has been enough accurate information reported that allows him to draw his conclusion.

“Until the investigation is complete,” he added, “you’re on the outside looking in. But if you accept on face value the fact that the door was unlocked, the door wasn’t closed, or the door was ajar, that is an epic failure on the school system. One of the simplest things you can do to either stop or at least delay a shooter and provide people in a school more time to protect themselves until police can respond is to have locked doors.”

As Judd explained, some of the most basic security measures present the greatest opportunity for safety. He is also certain that after the investigation is complete, it will be determined that the shooting in Uvalde fits the same pattern as all the other active assailants we’ve seen.

“You will see there were opportunities in advance to have interventions and people were either in denial or didn’t report it because that’s what we see,” Judd said. “These assailants give off signs, evident signs usually, and it comes back to the simplest things that don’t cost money. If you see something or hear something, say something. Give law enforcement an opportunity for an intervention.”

While Texas Governor Greg Abbott asserted that authorities were unaware that 18-year-old Salvador Ramos had any history of any diagnosed mental illness or any known criminal activity, and that “there was no meaningful forewarning of this crime,” the stories emerging from peers and family members of Ramos describe clear signs of mental anguish, violent behavior, and a social disconnect.

According to one report, Ramos posted a photo on social media of two AR-15-style rifles. One he purchased on March 17, even though he was not of legal age at the time. Three days after his May 16 birthday, Ramos purchased the second weapon. Three days later, he returned to purchase 375 rounds of ammunition.

In another report, peers described Ramos as a “dropout” who was “bullied hard,” and “needed mental help.” His homelife consisted of a “drug-addicted parent” who constantly threatened to kick him out of the house and his school friendships were “short-lived” because of his volatile temper. After dropping out of high school, friends say Ramos underwent a dramatic change in his appearance. He grew his hair long and dressed all in black. Another friend described how Ramos frequently had cuts on his face, admitting he did it himself for fun.

Change Needed

For years, Judd has been vocal about changes he insists Florida needs to adopt to protect children in schools. In the wake of the Feb. 18, 2018, shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead and another 17 injured, Judd touted his department’s Sentinel Program, which was already in effect at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida.

“I called the person who was the school superintendent at that time,” Judd added. “I also called the state college president and the private college president and offered to do the Sentinel training for them. The public schools turned me down. The college turned me down.”

The only one who accepted his offer was the private college of Southeastern. The Parkland shooting happened a year later.

At an occasionally testy news conference following the Parkland shooting, Judd acknowledged that some would not agree with his Sentinel Program. However, to those who criticized his program yet offered no alternatives, Judd presented a challenge. “OK, Einstein, you got a better idea?

“The guy comes onto the campus with a gun. No one has a gun. It’s easy to shoot,” Judd said in a Feb.19, 2018, interview with a local Tampa news outlet. “It’s a game changer when all of a sudden, two or three people are shooting back at you. I’ll promise you that.”

As Judd explained, the Sentinels in his program qualify at a higher percentage than is necessary to qualify as a police officer or law enforcement officer in the state of Florida. On day one of the Sentinel Academy, Sentinels have to prove a higher level of proficiency to carry, possess, and use a firearm.

Following the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting, Judd said that’s when legislators finally came to him to talk about his program.

“They took my Sentinel Program, added 12 hours of diversity training and changed the name to the Guardian Program,” Judd said.

While the Parkland shooting inspired people to want a law enforcement officer at schools, Florida already had several thousand vacancies in staffing. Even if they had the money to hire all of the needed police officers or deputies, there weren’t enough trained personnel to fill the positions. That’s what encouraged legislators to pass the guardian program.

“We thought we would have difficulty in hiring enough qualified guardians for the school,” Judd admitted, “But, believe it or not, because the guardians work the same days and hours that their children attend school, it has been an overwhelmingly popular job and we don’t have any problem at all staffing Guardian positions.”

In Florida, 45 of the state’s 67 county school districts have implemented some form of armed guardian program. Many of these were instituted in the aftermath of the 2018 Parkland shooting. Santa Rosa County, Florida is poised to become the 46th.

“At the end of the day, the Guardians are doing remarkable work and we are very pleased with the results,” Judd said. “We want at least one armed person at every public school and charter school in this state—one’s better than none. Two would be better than one and four would be better than three. We need to have some redundancy, and that is what I am advocating for now.”

“No matter what we do, we can never 100 percent say there will never be another active assailant,” Judd confessed. “But I can assure you of this: we can reduce the probabilities significantly when not only law enforcement, the government, and everybody in the community wakes up and understands that there are a few very evil, deranged, mentally ill and/or drug addicted people who are very dangerous and we need to know who they are before they decide to show up at the next theater, business, shopping mall or school to hurt people.

“We can reduce those probabilities. But we cannot continue to stay in denial about it as a society,” he said.

He said the Baker Act, which governs involuntary institutionalization of people with mental health issues, needs more teeth.

Asked about those who are still critical of school Guardian programs, Judd said, “They certainly didn’t have a child that was shot and killed at Columbine, Parkland, or in Uvalde, Texas.”

“There’s always going to be a few critics, and the media will seek them out for an opposing position, and I will respect their input,” Judd said. “But they are just absolutely and unequivocally wrong.

“The reason why they are wrong is if all of the layers we should have in place to identify potential active assailants and to have interventions aren’t effective, the last best chance to save your child’s life is to have a well-trained law enforcement officer, Guardian, or Sentinel, to find this active shooter, hopefully before they ever get into the school parking lot to kill your child.

“As simple as it sounds, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, and when everything else fails, I clearly and unequivocally believe that a well trained Guardian or law enforcement officer is imperative to the safety and security of children at a school,” he said.

“Having well armed, well trained people is not the first line of defense. It’s the very last best chance to stay alive when everything else has failed.”

Patricia Tolson

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Patricia Tolson, an award-winning national investigative reporter with 20 years of experience, has worked for such news outlets as Yahoo!, U.S. News, and The Tampa Free Press. With The Epoch Times, Patricia’s in-depth investigative coverage of human interest stories, election policies, education, school boards, and parental rights has achieved international exposure. Send her your story ideas: patricia.tolson@epochtimes.us

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