POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd had sharp words for drug dealers and state legislators during a press conference announcing the arrests of alleged heroin traffickers on Thursday.
To combat heroin deaths within the county, PCSO conducted a three-month undercover investigation into drug trafficking with assistance from the Lakeland Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the State Attorney's Office.
17 individuals were arrested as a result of the investigation. An alleged dealer is facing federal charges in one death and Judd said that detectives are working to connect other deaths to the traffickers.
One individual, Naboris Lampkins, is currently at large. Sheriff Judd urged the public to submit tips to Crime Stoppers to help bring Lampkins into custody.
Judd began his press conference by showing photos of victims of heroin overdoses. Judd said that their deaths were attributed by a lethal combination of heroin and fentanyl. Eight people were killed by overdoses this year and Judd said that he suspects that further evidence testing will link fentanyl to each of their deaths.
"These are real people with real families," Judd said.
Judd also took to task people whom he considered were spreading false information about the seriousness of "low level non violent drug offenders."
"For those folks who continue to spread the false fact represented as the truth that these people are low-level non-violent drug offenders. Here's your sign. They are liars. They are lying to you. Where there's drugs, there's guns. There's violence. This is not the makeup world that you think about," Judd said.
As Judd stood between a table filled with packets of seized heroin and a placard featuring mugshots, Judd took the opportunity to chide the Florida Senate for not including a mandatory minimum sentencing requirement for fentanyl trafficking.
Judd said that while the Florida House has passed the mandatory minimum for fentanyl, the Committee of Criminal Justice removed the language from the bill which is still under review.
"We need fentanyl to have a trafficking amount and a minimum mandatory. If it was up to the criminal justice chair [Sen. Randolp Bracy (D-Orange)] in the senate, it's okay for people to die and not be held accountable for the sale of heroin mixed with fentanyl," Judd said.
While Judd pushed for fentanyl mandatory sentencing, a recent study from the James Madison Institute and a 2012 report from the Florida Legislature Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability raised questions about the efficacy of mandatory minimum sentences.