Love Behind Bars

When Albert Tacher met Dina Mora, he knew it was love. The problem? She was a prisoner, and he was a Broward Sheriff's Office deputy.

On a recent Saturday in his apartment in Boca Raton, he pulled out a big black binder full of mementos and earnestly declared, "This book is my life. I take a lot of pride in what you see in here." Then he sat down in his blue jeans, crossed his short legs, and thumbed through the pages, which tell the story of a deputy who, whatever his weaknesses might have been, truly cared about the jailed.

When inmates were ill, Tacher was usually the first to make sure they'd get proper medical treatment. "Let it be known that Albert Tacher has demonstrated compassion above and beyond the call of duty…," began a letter of commendation from the jail's medical staff. He was also praised for participating in food drives to help the poor and giving tours of the jail to troubled kids, in what was Broward's version of "Scared Straight."

In 1994 a State Attorney's Office investigator named David Patterson was so moved by Tacher's acts of kindness that he wrote a letter to BSO about it. Patterson had witnessed an elderly man at the jail who was in despair that he'd come to visit his grandson on the wrong day. The grandfather was devastated because he had to return home to Indiana and wouldn't get to visit at all. After a sergeant told the old man there was nothing to be done about it, Tacher intervened and arranged for an impromptu visit. "That old man broke my heart," Tacher says.

Trumped: Lt. Col. Patrick Tighe, director of the BSO's Department of Detention, turned down Tacher's request to marry Mora, but they found a way to get hitched
Sherri Cohen
Trumped: Lt. Col. Patrick Tighe, director of the BSO's Department of Detention, turned down Tacher's request to marry Mora, but they found a way to get hitched
Mora hasn't sat down in a restaurant for more than two years now
Sherri Cohen
Mora hasn't sat down in a restaurant for more than two years now

Letters like Patterson's were what prompted memos of praise from Tacher's supervisors, like the one from former acting sheriff Susan McCampbell, who wrote: "Your work makes us all proud." And there were dozens of cards from the inmates, some of them complete with drawings by jailhouse artists and sealed with toothpaste. Looking at the cards -- there are a couple dozen in his black binder -- Tacher beams with pride: "You can see some of the artistic talent inside those cells," he says. A female murderer drew Tacher an expert picture in ballpoint pen of a wolf howling at the moon. "Share your knowledge that will help others to understand their uniqueness or path in life," the inmate urges Tacher in the note.

A few years ago, 60 inmates got together and wrote a letter to Tacher's superiors, in a show of appreciation for his practice of giving them "human respect." One of Tacher's supervisors, Michael Bechard, wrote Tacher back. "From my heart," Bechard wrote, "I want to thank you for doing such a professional job…. Please know that we too truly appreciate the service you provide to the Broward Sheriff's Office."

But all that changed when Tacher's compassion turned to outright passion.

Tacher's romance with Mora may have been forbidden, but it was far from unique at BSO. A look at last year's internal investigations reveals that several jail employees were accused of looking for love behind bars -- both with inmates and with each other. And the cases, put together, run the gamut of romance and lust, from unrequited love to adulterous liaisons to violent breakups.

• Ruth Suarez, a 25-year-old jail worker who supervised inmates on menial tasks, became smitten with an inmate named Frank Amanti, an oft-convicted thief and fraud artist. "I would love to be escorted by you on a date. I'm very old fashioned, so you would have to ask," she wrote in one of the many love letters she gave him. "Your charges mean nothing to me as long as you are true to me and the things you do DO NOT AFFECT ME. Once they affect me… that means that you might be hurting me." In the end Amanti hurt Suarez badly: He went to internal investigators and told on her. Suarez, who gave a tearful sworn statement, was fired.

• An anonymous complaint from an inmate alleged that Dep. Angelique Mitchell, age 29, was having an affair with an inmate. Then a couple male inmates claimed that Mitchell was seen squeezing the buttocks of and kissing inmate Demetrius Barnes. There was no proof of sexual contact, however, and Mitchell swears to this day that she and Barnes were only friends who shared a love of the Bible. "I don't know why the inmates did that to me, but they did," says Mitchell, who was fired.

• An affair between two jail deputies, Roberto Mora (no relation to Dina Mora) and Cheralyn Kerr, degenerated into a bitter conflict that ended with Mora leaving curse-laden threats on Kerr's answering machine. Kerr, according to internal reports, had dumped him after he left his wife and kids for her. She'd also hit him, prompting Mora to file a restraining order against her. After the beating Kerr was seen in the jail rubbing her sore knuckles. "I beat his ass," she explained to another deputy. After an internal investigation, both were suspended (Mora for five days, Kerr for three) and ordered to undergo counseling.

• A female inmate accused Dep. Richard Cahill of feeling her breasts and thighs. "I got violated," the inmate complained. She said Cahill first gave her a cigarette and then commented on her figure, felt her body, and asked her to look him up when she got out of jail. Cahill, who denied the allegations, was suspended for three days.

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