Private SUV resembles Osceola law enforcement vehicle, motorists claim
Owner installed decals to promote sheriff's reelection
OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Shortly after purchasing a new Jeep Renegade, Osceola County businessman Richard Herr realized he could use the vehicle to simultaneously promote his company while also showing his support for Sheriff Russell Gibson's reelection campaign.
So Herr plastered logos for Green Machine Co. on the SUV, his business that combines lawn maintenance, scooter sales and a vape shop under one roof.
He also added several large decals on the silver Jeep that read "Sheriff Gibson" along with five-point stars resembling sheriff badges.
As motorists pass by the SUV on the highway, some might not immediately notice additional decals on the front fenders that read re-elect, a nod to the sheriff's political campaign.
Instead, those drivers' eyes might be drawn to the light bar mounted on the roof.
"If you glance at it, it does look like a police car," said Elena Vera after viewing videos of the SUV cruising down I-4, at times with its amber and white lights flashing. "I would think Sheriff Gibson would be driving it."
Her friend, Carmina Sampson, agreed.
"If they tried to stop me, I would stop because I thought it was a real police car," Sampson said.
Other motorists have expressed similar thoughts on social media.
Under Florida statutes, it is unlawful for anyone but law enforcement to own or operate a motor vehicle marked with words such as "sheriff," "police," "deputy," or "trooper."
The law also forbids the use of insignia that could identify the vehicle as law enforcement such as stars, badges or shields.
However, according to the statute, those markings are only illegal if used "with the intent to mislead or cause another person to believe that such vehicle is owned or operated by the appropriate agency" unless authorized by the agency to do so.
The Jeep's owner insists he never intended for his SUV to resemble an official law enforcement vehicle.
"Absolutely not. Absolutely not," Herr said. "We're not driving around pulling over people. We're not doing anything (like that)."
Instead, Herr said the purpose of the decals is to demonstrate his support for the sheriff's reelection campaign.
"I think he's doing a darn good job. I really do," said Herr. "The thing with Gibson, that I love about Gibson, is that he's firm but he's polite."
Herr claims he installed the light bar on the roof of the SUV prior to adding the other decals, in part to make his vehicle more visible when towing trailers for his lawn maintenance business.
Under Florida law, certain tow trucks, construction equipment and escort vehicles can display amber lights.
It is illegal for vehicles to be equipped with blue or red lights like the kind used by police, fire and emergency response agencies.
Originally, Herr indicated he does not drive the Jeep with the light bar activated.
"We haven't hauled anything with this," Herr said. "This is a personal vehicle."
However, News 6 cameras captured video of the SUV's amber and white lights flashing as Herr attempted to change lanes on local roads.
"Actually, I think I do remember using it," Herr said after being told about News 6's video. "The traffic was slowing up. I think I used it on that. I want to pre-warn people."
Under Florida law, flashing lights are prohibited on vehicles except as a means of indicating a right or left turn, to change lanes, or to indicate the vehicle is lawfully stopped or disabled upon the highway.
Herr said he hopes questions about his Jeep's appearance do not detract from Gibson's reelection efforts.
"The last thing I want to do is hurt his campaign," said Herr. "He's my friend and he does a very good job."
The sheriff told News 6 that Herr's Jeep is not an official campaign vehicle.
"He did it on his own," said Gibson, who indicated he has not seen the SUV in person but has viewed photographs of it shared by Herr.
"I told him, 'You're not violating any laws in Osceola County that I could tell'," Gibson said.
The sitting sheriff is facing challenges from fellow Democrats Mike Fisher and Marco Lopez, both of whom are former agency employees terminated by Gibson.
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