Dread the Star Chamber

Did a face-off with sheriff's brass drive the sergeant to suicide?

In April 1999, Wolfe married his second wife, Simone, who was about 20 years his junior. Raphael Wolfe Jr. was soon born. Around this same time, he became acquainted with Maria Kong, a real estate agent in her early 30s whom he'd met when she rented an apartment to his mother-in-law. Kong became a friend and shoulder to cry on for Wolfe.

He frequently expressed his dissatisfaction with BSO to Kong, especially since he'd taken charge of property-crime investigations in Pompano Beach in May 2001.

"He always [said] that there was so much prejudice in it," Kong told investigators. "And I remember him telling me he just got transferred to a head of a department and other people was there, you know, trying to get him out of the department and this kind of stuff."

In April 2002, the strain mounted for Wolfe when Violet filed in court for alimony and alleged that their divorce was fraudulent because she had not been properly served papers for the Jamaican divorce. Violet and her attorney told investigators that they never threatened to charge the deputy with bigamy. Wolfe, however, clearly believed otherwise and told his wife, who was pregnant with their second child, and Kong that he feared arrest for bigamy. Wolfe so anticipated arrest that he arranged a furtive meeting with a bail bondsman at a Miami Subs shop on May 23, five days before the suicide.

Wolfe was also feeling heat from the department. Sgt. Robert Schnakenberg, who worked with Wolfe at the Pompano Beach district, told investigators that Wolfe "was under some stress here at work because of the crime that's going on in Pompano. Pompano is very busy, and he was having some issues with that." On May 23, Schnakenberg advised him to go home, relax, and "get his books in order" for the Powertrac meeting.

On the afternoon of May 27, the day before the suicide, Wolfe discussed the next day's Powertrac meeting with one of his detectives, Richard Greaves. "[H]e really didn't want to go to Powertrac tomorrow 'cause he thought something may happen," Greaves told investigators. Wolfe had told him about his wife's attempt to get alimony, Greaves said, and the sergeant "believed that there was some kind of an internal investigation either ongoing or to be started, and I guess he wasn't sure if it was going to be made known to him at Powertrac." No such probe was taking place, according to investigators.

During the hourlong sessions, a district chief would ascend a rostrum, and before him sat Jenne and his top colonels. The lights would dim, and a spotlight would shine down on the chief. A large screen behind him would display statistics or pictures taken by the department's roving inspection team. With reams of crime statistics and incident reports in front of them, Jenne and his men would then pepper the review subject with questions about everything from unsolved burglaries to cigarette butts in courthouse stairwells. If the man in the spotlight -- or his cadre of lieutenants and sergeants seated behind him -- couldn't provide the right answers, he would be sent to turn up the heat on his deputies.

"When the question was asked, you had to give the exact answer they were looking for," recalls a BSO sergeant who attended Powertrac meetings around that time and was acquainted with Wolfe. Top colonels would grill and criticize chiefs in front of their own subordinates and sometimes even kick them out of the meeting if they failed to give answers they expected to hear, says the deputy, who asked not to be named.

BSO took over policing Pompano Beach in 1999, and Jenne made clear his ambition to absorb police agencies in other cities. Dramatically reducing crime statistics in Pompano was one way to persuade city commissioners elsewhere to contract with him. Indeed, burglaries dropped almost in half in Pompano during the first year BSO policed the city. Detective supervisors like Wolfe were under heavy pressure to make the stats look good for Powertrac.

"The numbers are from the top down instead of from the bottom up," contends the unnamed sergeant. "They want numbers to be produced about certain things." If those statistics aren't generated, blame lands on the heads of supervising sergeants, he says. Wolfe talked to him often about the pressure of Powertrac, and he believes it played a role in his suicide, despite Jenne's video. "It's a thing that happened that should not have happened."

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