Last week, we brought you the sad tale of Darrin Podder, handcuffed and hauled to jail by Broward Sheriff's deputies for "littering" a 20-foot tree on a construction site in Pompano Beach that he'd been hired to landscape by Butters Construction.
Podder was in the middle of replacing a row of six dead trees when two BSO deputies showed up, arrested him on a vaguely worded Florida littering statute, and impounded his $40,000 backhoe. He'd moved the first dead tree to the swale at the unfinished Butter construction site across the street. When he was finished planting the new trees, he was going to load all the dead trees up on his backhoe and cart them off, just the way it was specified in his contract. But Podder never got the chance.
Although the arrest happened two years ago, and a lawsuit was settled in Podder's favor for $32,500 in damages a couple of weeks ago against Broward Sheriff's Office, the memory of what happened that day still rankles.
We asked him if there was a takeaway lesson from the experience.
"There was no lesson," he said.
"I'm a long-haired hippie," Podder explained. "I look like a scumbag, I look like a peasant. I don't dress appropriate, and I don't shave. My wife tells me I look like a thug. But I'm proud of what I've accomplished," Podder said. "I've built this business up from the ground."
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We can't weigh in on whether Podder actually looks like a peasant/scumbag/thug, since we spoke to him only by phone.
The Butter job was one of his biggest-ever contracts. "The cops had all seen me working here for two months," he said. "But they didn't want to go against the sergeant [Willie Jones] who had me arrested."
We asked BSO spokeswoman Dani Moschella about why the Sheriff's Office thought it would be a good idea to arrest Podder and charge him with felony littering when he was simply removing dead trees (the State Attorney later dropped all charges), but Moschella declined to comment. We also haven't heard back from our Florida senators, Nan Rich, Dave Aronberg, Jeff Atwater, or Chris Smith, about whether arrests like these and the inevitable lawsuits that follow from them are a righteous way to spend taxpayer money.
Might it be worthwhile to take a few hours to reword this statute?