Hendry County sheriff sets curfew; Clewiston PD opts out

CLEWISTON — On Tuesday, Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden declared an 8 p.m. curfew for eastern Hendry County for Wednesday night, but the City of Clewiston is still evaluating the need for such action.

In a social media message posted Tuesday afternoon, June 2, the sheriff said they have learned the Black Lives Matter movement may be protesting Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at the Clewiston Walmart.
He said they are not expecting any trouble, “but if you have watched the news, you see some of the things that happen at some of these protests after hours.” He said there will be curfew from 8 p.m. June 3 to 5 a.m. June 4.

After the sheriff’s announcement on Tuesday afternoon, Clewiston Chief of Police Aaron K. Angell posted the following message of the Clewiston Police Department Facebook page: “Earlier today a Southwest Florida media outlet from Lee County aired a story related to a curfew which is or has been implemented within ‘Eastern Hendry County; by the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office in response to a social media threat of a potentially violent protest reportedly planned for Wednesday, June 3, at the Clewiston Walmart. In an abundance of caution, Clewiston’s Walmart has opted to adjust its store hours for June 3, and has collaborated with the Clewiston Police Department to address potential concerns. The City of Clewiston is evaluating whether a curfew for inside the city limits of Clewiston should also be initiated. At this time, the City of Clewiston has not initiated a curfew for the City of Clewiston. We will continue to update you if the situation changes. The Clewiston Police Department has been addressing this matter for several days and has developed a plan to address implementation of additional law enforcement resources should a situation occur that necessitates this. In recent days our nation has been gripped by images of a society in turmoil and at war with its values and ideals. Locally our city has faced many challenges and has a history of uniting in times of hardship and taking care of its own. We are most proud of our resilience and connectedness. We offer reassurance that we stand in solidarity with our friends and neighbors of America’s Sweetest Town. As always, we remain committed to serving all citizens with respect and dignity. We will continue to monitor this situation closely and respond appropriately to any potential situation as it develops.”

On Wednesday morning the sheriff modified his stance, acknowledging the City of Clewiston’s authority within the city limits. “The city is a home rule city and can choose not to implement a curfew,” he stated. “The issue is when we have seen the anarchy that has followed after numerous peaceful protests have occurred, and a curfew is not already implemented, it makes it much more difficult to gain control and makes it very dangerous for our citizens and law enforcement officers. I hope the city has made the correct call, but I would rather prepare for the worse and hope for the best.”

“If you come into Hendry County to protest, that’s fine. Do it peacefully,” said Sheriff Whidden in his Tuesday announcement. “The minute you start criminal activity, the looting, the breaking windows, anything, you are going to be met with a strong hand and it will dealt with swiftly.

“We are not going to let people come into our county and destroy it. It is not going to happen,” he said.
“I am not trying to alarm anyone,” said the sheriff. He assured the public he has reached out to area law enforcement agencies for assistance should it be needed.

Just after noon on Wednesday, June 3, Assistant Chief of the Clewiston Police Department, Marci Vandhuynslager issued the following media advisory: “The verbiage of Florida statute 870.041 offers the following language: ‘in the event of overt acts of violence or the imminent threat of such violence in a county or municipality’. At this time we have not received information which indicates the statutory requirement for this has been met. We are monitoring this situation closely should this change and will adapt as needed. The Clewiston Police Department recognizes the need to balance constitutionally-protected behavior with preservation of peace and safety for the public and are working diligently to ensure this … The sheriff’s made no indication to the city that a curfew was under consideration. We were left to make the determination on the validity of a need for a curfew without this information.”

Clewiston Walmart will close at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 3.

(Katrina Elsken and Danika Fornear contributed to this story.)

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