OKEECHOBEE — Following an article in the July 12 edition of the Lake Okeechobee News headlined “Coquina Water Control sues Sheriff Stephen,” there was an immediate backlash from many of the Viking Estates landowners. “We stand with the sheriff,” and “Coquina does not speak for us,” were some of the sentiments expressed by many of them on numerous Facebook pages, including that of the Lake Okeechobee News. One woman was horrified at the thought that people in town would think everyone out on the Prairie was an idiot because they were constantly suing someone or fighting with the sheriff. Many were worried that if the sheriff lost the suit, they would no longer have any sort of protection when they needed it. What if someone tried to break into their homes? What if they were injured? Would EMS still respond? One woman said there have been six people life-flighted out after ATV accidents in the four years she has lived out there. She is worried having more freedom to ride would result in more accidents.
Ashleigh Vanskike said: “I am a landowner and I support the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO). I do not agree with this wasteful and fraudulent spending of my tax dollars. Coquina Water Management and its board is just that, water management and has no business spending our tax dollars this way or meddling in things not assigned to them. With the few interactions with the deputies I have had, they have always been very professional and followed the law. From what I have been seeing they have been far more lenient than they could have been. I stand behind the blue!”
Beverly Wilkerson said: “Just to let everyone know, I’m one of the homeowners out here who disagree with suing the sheriff’s department. I have never had an issue with them at all and every time I call, a deputy comes out, makes a report and it’s filed. I have had my camper broken into while I was trying to replace my home that burned down. They came out and did finger printing and a report, and it was filed. I had two people in a Ford Explorer open my gate, come in and shut it behind them and sit in my yard at 6 a.m. They got a little lead thrown at them. I got a license number, called the whole thing in, and a deputy came out, caught them, trespassed them and told them I had all rights because they were trespassing. I had a drunk driver about run me over at my mail box. I called them, they came out, and he went to jail. When I call, things are taken care of. I have no issues with the sheriff and his deputies, and quite frankly, I want them out here so when something happens they’re not 45 minutes away. They can take care of the issue, and all is good. I’m not taking any part in Coquina’s plans to sue the sheriff’s office. Y’all have at it if that makes y’all happy, but in the end, when help is needed and you can’t get any, shame on y’all.”
Donna Munn said: “I live in the Prairie, and I support and respect our law enforcement. Personally, I think the county should just take it over or better yet, highway patrol, and end all this nonsense which costs us taxpayers money.”
Kathleen Leininger said: “I am a landowner and I support OCSO. I do not agree with Coquina Water Management. They do not represent us all.”
Dee Packard said: “I am a landowner and I support OCSO. I do not agree with Coquina Water Management. They do not represent us all.”
Lorey Gillam said: “I’m a landowner, and I never agreed to any lawsuit against Sheriff Stephen or his department. No one ever came and asked me what I thought like James Griffith claims. Most of the people involved in this suit weren’t even out here for the Byars issue!”
Shayne Sage said: “Amazing how they try and pick their laws, but they want them enforced. You are doing a great job, Sheriff Noel Stephen. It’s still Okeechobee County.”
Melissa Roznak said: “It should be noted that Griffith, despite his claims, does not represent ALL of the landowners out here. There are quite a few landowners who do NOT feel that we should be suing the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office or Sheriff Stephen at all.”
Bobby Wynn said: “There are a lot of homeowners out here that don’t want James Griffith and his ATVs destroying our roads, and I am one of those home owners. We need OCSO patrolling all roads out here. Coquina only has an easement down all grass roads to drain water.”
Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said: “The sheriff does what he feels necessary to protect the residents of Okeechobee County and our board has always supported the sheriff, as we would whoever the sheriff might be in the future.”
Tom Feldt said: “That whole board should be thrown out. They cheated getting in there. I’m not sure I even want to live out here anymore. The sheriff is just doing his job, and this is uncalled for. A lot of people have already been hurt out here, and we are just lucky no one has sued Coquina. They just don’t seem to understand, or they don’t care that if someone gets hurt we are all liable. It’s all about the four-wheelers for them.”
It is no secret there has been a division out on the Prairie/Viking for several years now. One group is very unhappy with the way the laws are being enforced and feel certain deputies are deliberately making their lives miserable and trampling on their personal and property rights. The other group believes the sheriff’s office is doing nothing wrong at all. They feel the first group is deliberately antagonizing the sheriff’s office and if they would just obey the laws there wouldn’t be a problem. The second group is also unhappy that Coquina Water Control District keeps spending their tax dollars on what they consider frivolous lawsuits. Both groups claim they represent a majority of the landowners on the Prairie, but neither seems to be able to prove it.
On June 6, a summons was issued to Sheriff Stephen ordering him to provide written defenses to the complaint from Coquina within 20 days. If he fails to provide the defense, a default will be entered against him for the relief demanded in the complaint.