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Interview: Polk County sheriff remembers deputy lost to COVID-19, urges vaccinations

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Sheriff Grady Judd, left, is shown with Deputy Christopher Broadhead during and award ceremony in 2017. Broadhead received a Meritorious Service Award. Photo: PCSO via Facebook

Polk County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Broadhead died Monday after a weeks-long battle with COVID-19.

He was a detective, a 10-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, a husband and a dad.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd spoke with me about the loss of a man he considers a model law enforcement officer and about his own message on the coronavirus vaccines.

WMFE: Sheriff, thank you so much for talking with me today.

SHERIFF JUDD: It is truly my honor to be with you and to talk about our Deputy Christopher Broadhead, who was just a great man, a great father and a great cop.

WMFE: I wanted to ask you to talk a little more about him and about his time with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, how well you knew him and what stood out about him.

SHERIFF JUDD: Sure. He worked with us about 10 years from the time he was 22 years of age. He worked patrol. He was a detective in property crimes, robbery, violent crimes, homicide. Annd he worked on our crime suppression team. But he was a quintessential law enforcement officer. He loved the community. He worked very hard to keep everyone safe. And even suspects would shake his hand whenever he arrested them and took them to jail. He just had that kind of personality. He comforted the victims of those that were injured as a result of violence. He comforted the family of homicide victims. He was truly a great man.

When he got this covid — he and his 2-year-old and 1-year-old and his wife — the entire family got covid. So you can imagine it was a radical shock for his wife, his two children and his stepchildren whenever they all recovered and he didn’t. But, but at the end of the day, that’s the frightening thing about covid. Some get it have no symptoms, some get it have minor symptoms, some get it have major symptoms, and some get it and they die. And unfortunately, Chris died.

WMFE: I know we want to talk about vaccines. Are you able to talk about his vaccine status?

SHERIFF JUDD: No, I really can’t because it’s HIPAA.

WMFE: I understand you are trying to get a message out about the coronavirus vaccines.

SHERIFF JUDD: This didn’t start with the death of Christopher. From the very beginning when the vaccine became available, I told all of the men and women at the sheriff’s office and everyone that I talked to that I’m not going to mandate the vaccine at the sheriff’s office because I think that’s government overreach, that’s supervision overreach. It’s your body. It has to be your personal decision. But what I shared with everyone is: I talked to my doctor. I talked to my friends who are doctors, and not one hesitated. They all said, Absolutely, get the vaccine, and encourage everyone else to get the vaccine.

I’ve heard all the excuses. Oh, we don’t have enough research, we don’t have enough time. Let me explain something to you. If you get covid and die, none of that makes any difference anyway. And there’s risk in life, and there’s risk with every medicine that’s ever been created. So at the end of the day, I strongly encourage you to talk to your doctor, to pay attention to the science, and ultimately, I think you’ll end up with the same conclusion that I received, get the vaccine.

WMFE: Sheriff, one of the tragedies that we’ve seen is we’ve seen a number of young first responders who have contracted covid, have been hospitalized and even died. Deputy Broadhead is obviously an example of that. Do you think there’s something about young first responders where they’re resistant to the vaccine?

SHERIFF JUDD: Well, I can tell you that first and foremost, that first responders are risk-takers. If they weren’t risk-takers, they couldn’t be first responders. So they’re used to death and dying. They’re used to running into hazardous situations. And they survived those situations the overwhelming majority of the time. So when covid appeared, it was just another risk, and some of them were willing to take that risk. Many of them caught covid and survived, but a few have caught COVID and have not survived. So we’re dealing with not only personal decisions, but we’re dealing with a personality that’s a risk taker, by nature, or they wouldn’t be in law enforcement.

I’ve done everything I can do short of mandating the vaccine, and I just will not do that because, once again, that’s not my business. I encourage it. I pray every night that my deputies and all first responders and all of the people in the nation will get the vaccine, but I can’t make them do that. That’s a decision for them to decide.

WMFE: Do you think that as his Delta variant is just so horrible, do you think that the message is getting out to more people, especially in Polk County, that they should go ahead and get vaccinated?

SHERIFF JUDD: I certainly hope that it does. I think the Delta variant seems to be more prolific … but it’s the perfect storm because we thought we had most of covid behind us. So we relaxed a lot of the items or rules that we were personally following. So when you took the upsurge of the new Delta variant, which I think is is more prolific and easier to catch, with the fact that we started relaxing our personal rules and processes, I think that caused us to have the uptick.

Currently, today, we have 58 members of the sheriff’s office that are out with COVID. And that’s an all-time high. We’ve never had that many at one time, although we’ve had some since the beginning of the covid outbreak. So that gives me another talking point internally to say: Look, this spike is not over. But the spike will go away quicker if we all agree to get vaccinated.

WMFE: Sheriff, thank you so much for talking with us, and I truly wish you the best in your efforts.

SHERIFF JUDD: Thank you very much. Have a great day.

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Joe Byrnes

About Joe Byrnes


Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.