In June 1995, undercover Sheriff's deputies began investigating fireworks stands in Polk County to ensure they were in compliance with Florida State Statutes and a Polk County Ordinance (those stating it is illegal to sell exploding fireworks to the general public, and that the Sheriff must confiscate illegal fireworks and charge or arrest sellers of such). During that month, investigators seized approximately $350,000 worth of illegal fireworks from Florida Novelty, Inc., located in Haines City in the U.S. Hwy 27 and I-4 area. An additional $20,000 worth was seized from other area fireworks stands.
Since that time, a legal battle has ensued as Florida Novelty, Inc. has taken Sheriff Lawrence W. Crow, Jr. to Federal and Circuit courts to demand an injunction against the confiscation of illegal fireworks, and the return of all that had been seized. Neither of the two cases Florida Novelty, Inc. brought against the Sheriff prevailed, and Sheriff Crow subsequently filed counter- uits to recoup funds lost in court costs, legal fees, and the storage and disposal of the seized illegal fireworks.
Florida State Statute 791 - Sale of Fireworks states only sparklers can be legally sold to the public. Any type of firework that explodes or is propelled in the air is illegal, except when used for agricultural, railroad, or quarrying purposes. Anyone purchasing an exploding firework must provide proof of a wholesale license to distribute the fireworks in a state where they are legal, or proof of the aforementioned three legal purposes for using exploding fireworks, or a waiver from the Sheriff. Florida Novelty clerks sold exploding fireworks to anyone entering their establishment, after having them sign a "form" stating he/she was a wholesale distributor of fireworks.
County Court Judge Steven Selph, presiding over one of the cases brought against Sheriff Crow, stated in the courtroom: "Those things are packaged to sell to the general public at retail. This is for people to take home and play with them. Oh by the way, 'Fill out one of these forms before you come up here to make your purchase.' Well, it's a game. I said that the last time we had one of these trials when I found the defendant guilty."
In November 2002, the Sheriff was awarded judgment of $25,500 in Federal Court for attorneys' fees relative to the aforementioned lawsuit, to be paid by Samuel Abdalla, owner and president of Florida Novelty, Inc. Also, Sheriff Crow has filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court for an additional $14,000 from Abdalla for unpaid fees and expenses in reference to the seizure, storage, transportation, and destruction of illegal fireworks.
When news of the judgment was received at the Sheriff's Office, Colonel Grady Judd said, "It is not uncommon for those acting outside the scope of the law to try to intimidate law enforcement by filing frivolous lawsuits against them. They don't intimidate us, and now they will pay back tax dollars to the citizens of Polk County."
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