OKEECHOBEE – A circuit judge’s ruling has upheld Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen’s right to enforce the law on the roads controlled by the Coquina Water Control District, sometimes called the Prairie or Viking Properties.
In the case of Coquina Water Control District vs. Noel Stephen, Sheriff of Okeechobee County, 19th Judicial Circuit Judge Laurie Buchanan granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
The sheriff said the Coquina board tried to claim his deputies do not have jurisdiction to enforce traffic laws on the roads controlled by Coquina Water Control District.
He said the judge ruled “I am within my rights.” The case doesn’t even have to go to trial, he added.
“As I do almost in every neighborhood in this county, I end up having to be reactive to the calls and complaints,” on the Prairie, he explained.
He said due to the many complaints about reckless driving by ATV riders, he put extra patrols on the Prairie to get the situation under control.
This case has been going on for quite some time, he explained. “It has not changed anything I have done. It’s not going to change anything that I am doing.”
The court also reserved jurisdiction to determine the defendant’s entitlement to an amount of court costs to be recovered from the plaintiff. The sheriff said he has not decided whether he should seek reimbursement for legal fees. While the Coquina board pressed the lawsuit, many of the residents of the Viking Properties did not want this fight, he explained. “They want law enforcement.” He said if the court orders Coquina to pay the sheriff’s legal fees, that money would come from the Coquina tax payers.
He said he hopes the ruling puts the dispute over Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction to enforce traffic laws on the roads on the Prairie to rest.
“I hope this will convince Coquina I have jurisdiction,” he said. “Their focus needs to be on the ditches and rights-of-way and easements for water control and leave the law enforcement function to me.”