Deputies in Florida back off noise complaint — after they’re told the sheriff is at the party

Lisa J. Huriash, South Florida Sun Sentinel-Sat, April 10, 2021, 3:21 PM

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A loud birthday party on a recent Saturday night brought sheriff’s deputies to a home in Parkland, but they wound up looking the other way when told about one of the revelers inside: their own boss, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony.

Several partygoers who met the deputies outside the home on March 27 boasted that the sheriff was a guest inside. It led to an awkward encounter in which the deputies hesitated to confront the sheriff and then backed off entirely.

“You guys do whatever you want,” one deputy said, starting to walk away. “Have a nice night.”

The South Florida Sun Sentinel obtained the deputies’ body-cam footage Friday through a public records request. Tony is not shown on the footage and there’s no proof he was there, but the partiers declare repeatedly that he’s inside.

Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes, who reviewed the footage Friday, said it shows the deputies appearing to “cower away.” The average person “doesn’t get that level of deference from law enforcement when they have that kind of encounter.”

One of the people who lives at the home, Assistant Public Defender Susan Lawson, seemed to put the deputies in an uncomfortable spot by continuing to name-drop the sheriff, Weekes said. “Is a regular citizen going to have that kind of deference from law enforcement? It’s an example of two systems” of justice, he said.

The Sheriff Office says the deputies did the right thing.

“The deputies responded and determined there was no noise violation,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright. The city’s noise ordinance would not take effect for another half-hour.

“The outcome would have been the same under the same circumstances if someone called in a noise complaint to your home,” Coleman-Wright said.

She said she didn’t know whether Tony was at the gathering, adding that she doesn’t ask what he does on his own time.

Reached by the Sun Sentinel, Lawson didn’t comment late Friday.

Deputies responded to the party about 10:30 p.m. that Saturday night, records show.

When the first deputy arrived, two men stood in the driveway smoking cigarettes, one of them holding a Corona. The men, grinning, invited the deputy to walk around the side of the house to get to the backyard and see “Sheriff Gregory.” The deputy at one point said, “I’m like scared to go …”

“Can I walk behind you and watch this?” one teases.

“I don’t believe you,” she says, laughing.

“Big dude!” they insist, noting his muscles. “He’s jacked.”

One of the men, to prove Tony is there, pulls out his cellphone to show pictures.

After seeing a picture, the deputy reacted with “oh!” and backed up to face away from the home. “Give me a second,” she said, placing her hand over her body-worn camera.

A few moments later, the homeowners, Susan Lawson and her husband, Brian, step outside to talk to the deputy, gathering on the sidewalk by the mailbox.

“Greg Tony is here, your boss. Sorry,” Susan Lawson told the deputy.

Brian Lawson asked one of the partygoers why he was bringing up Tony. “Why are you guys throwing it out there?”

The body-cam audio cuts off part of the partygoer’s response. Brian Lawson starts to talk to the deputy about the city’s noise ordinance, which takes effect at 11 p.m.

The neighbor’s noise complaint came in just before 10:30 p.m. When the body-cam audio resumes, Brian Lawson is heard talking about how they planned to stop the music by 11, abiding by the ordinance.

The city’s noise disturbance ordinance bans any loud music that’s played “in such a loud and raucous manner” that it disturbs “the peace, quiet or comfort of the adjacent neighbor.” The ordinance is in effect between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Sunday through Thursday nights and from 11 p.m. through 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights.

Asked whether loud disturbances are allowed at other times, city spokesman Todd DeAngelis said, “I’ll leave it at the noise ordinance kicks in at 11.”

Even though it wasn’t 11 yet, the second deputy still tried to get the partygoers to turn down the music, explaining that it was bothering a neighbor.

“You still have to turn the music down,” the deputy insisted. “The music is too loud.”

Susan Lawson, realizing the deputy wasn’t budging, said “all right” and walked a few feet from the sidewalk back toward her front door, as if she was getting the sheriff. Once she reached her front door, she told the deputy from a distance, “You can talk to your sheriff.”

As this happens, the deputy’s outlook changed.

“Wow,” the deputy replied, raising his hand up in the air. “I didn’t really mean to do anything like that.”

Brian Lawson assured the deputy, “We’re abiding by the law, so we’re good.” The audio in the body-cam footage cut offs in the next few seconds of the conversation. The female deputy is then heard saying, “All right. Enjoy.” The other deputy said, “Good night, Mr. Lawson. Have a good evening.”

A sheriff’s report briefly sums up how the noise complaint was handled. The report states those at the party said “they were allowed to play music until 11 p.m., per one of their guests.” The report doesn’t identify the guest and doesn’t mention the discussion of the sheriff.

The deputy described being unable to get them to lower the music. “I advised them of their neighbor’s concern, and they did not seem to care about that and stated that they would continue.”

Weekes said: “The sheriff probably should have come out and addressed the matter, and just turned down the music like every other citizen.” Weekes said he had been to parties as a teen when police showed up, “and not once (did they say), ‘You have 30 more minutes on the clock.’”

Regarding Susan Lawson, who works for his office, Weekes said he regarded her gathering in Parkland as “a personal matter” and said “there are no repercussions from me on this.”

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