By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
An investigation involving a Broward Sheriff’s Office reality TV show has led to the release of a state attorney’s list of 137 current and former police officers and deputies whose testimony may be suspect because of their troubles with the law.
The list includes officers who have been arrested or convicted of crimes like sexual battery, attempted murder, fraud, drug trafficking and official misconduct. Others are on the list because they are under investigation regarding fatal shootings, the falsification of records, perjury, traffic fatalities, theft and other crimes.
Every police agency in the county, except for the three smallest departments, has at least one officer on the list. The county’s largest police agency, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, has the most with 57 deputies, followed by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department with 19 officers. Hollywood and Lauderhill each have eight officers on the list. Five men and women on the list could not be identified by department.
Since Oct. 1, prosecutors have added 23 officers and deputies to the list – a rate of nearly two names a week. The list, which you can see here, is through Dec. 22.
The so-called “Brady List” includes the names of all officers listed as “active” in the state’s computerized attorney notification system, whether their cases are “pending, open, closed, convicted or not,” said Broward State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ron Ishoy.
The list is named for a U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, which established a legal doctrine requiring prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence in the state’s possession to defendants and their lawyers. The officers on the list are those about whom the state has information that may be favorable to the defense.
“They remain on the list because they could be subject to impeachment as potential witnesses in other cases,” Ishoy said. “The list is complete as of the day you received it as far as we know.”
In addition to the names of the officers, the list includes brief comments indicating why they are on it and the name of the prosecutor who put them there. Prosecutors make those calls “on a case by case basis as to whether the evidence is relevant under discovery rules detailed in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure,” Ishoy said. Prosecutors won’t comment on the open cases.
Most of the officers on the list are there for matters since the beginning of 2009, but some date to 2004. The list is dynamic, with names added and removed as prosecutors believe is warranted.
THE LIST BECOMES KNOWN
The existence of the list became known recently when it was mentioned in an August letter from prosecutors to Gerald Wengert, a Broward Sheriff’s deputy and star of the reality television show “Unleashed: K-9 Broward County, informing him that he is under investigation for falsifying records.
Broward Bulldog obtained the list using Florida’s public records law.
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said he was unaware such a list existed. After being told how many officers and deputies were on the list, he said he believes the state has undercounted.
“My office has a list that’s larger than that using our own information. The State Attorney’s Office always takes a restrictive rather than an expansive view of what constitutes Brady material. If they say it’s about 130 it’s my guess it’s probably more like 450,” Finkelstein said.
Ishoy said the Brady List is a printout of the latest data that his office has collected and made available to defense lawyers for several years. He said the state’s release of information goes “far beyond” what the law requires.
“It has evolved as our computer system has evolved,” he said. “We did it to enhance efficiency and consistency in disclosing this information.”
Still, the Brady List assembles in one place the names of problematic officers, including officers under investigation in police shootings and other matters that have not previously been made available to the public at large.
The list shows that prosecutor-led grand jury investigations of fatal police shootings often take years before they are concluded.
As of Dec. 22, 30 officers from around the county were under scrutiny by the grand jury in cases in which a person died as a result of police action. Eleven of those officers have been under investigation since 2009. One officer, Pembroke Pines Sgt. James Helms, is under scrutiny in two death cases opened in 2009 and 2011.
“NO PRIORTY” FOR POLICE SHOOTING PROBES
Veteran Fort Lauderdale civil rights attorney Barbara Heyer said that such delays are unfair and intolerable for cases that should be among the State Attorney’s top priorities.
“These police shooting cases are just tagging along, there is no priority” she said. “The families of these victims, and they are victims, have to have some type of closure. To constantly hear prosecutors say this is ‘under investigation’ provides no one with anything.”
In June, Public Defender Finkelstein sent a letter to the Justice Department complaining that Broward State Attorney Michael Satz had failed to adequately investigate and prosecute criminal conduct by police. He alleged that was, in part, a “misguided” attempt to “insulate the state from its obligations under Brady.”
Finkelstein said his office reviewed dozens of prosecutors’ memos closing out investigations of officers without the filing of charges, and asserted that a there is a “double standard of justice in Broward County – one for law enforcement and the connected, and one for everyone else.”
“The state declines any prosecution against law enforcement unless there is a ‘reasonable likelihood of conviction.’ For my clients and other citizens, corroboration is not necessary to file charges and a ‘reasonable likelihood of conviction’” is measured to a lower standard, Finkelstein said.
Satz has called Finkelstein’s assertions “false and irresponsible.”