Deputy Down | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


Deputy Down

Fort Lauderdale's affluent Coral Highlands neighborhood, on the northern edge of the city limits, was filled with nice people, manicured lawns, sky-blue pools, and polished SUVs. It was a place where some came to raise children and others to spend their final years. It was a neighborhood where not much happened, a swath of concrete-block suburbia where saltwater air never wafted past tragedy.

Then came August 19, 2004. At around 8:45 a.m., a crowd of about 12 Broward Sheriff's deputies, many wearing bulletproof vests, gathered outside the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house of gay partners Kelly Ray Jones and Kenneth Wilk at 1950 NE 57th St. The lawmen suspected that the pair had a stash of child pornography and, possibly, some drugs.

One man preparing to storm the house was 33-year-old Todd Fatta, a good-looking, well-built, square-jawed deputy with brown hair and eyes. A nine-year Sheriff's Office veteran, Fatta had been informed of the assignment only the night before.

Approaching the house, deputies found a steel door with three dead bolts engaged. A large front window, which normally would have provided a clear view inside the home, was obstructed by a sheet of reflective material. Wilk, whose partner was already in jail, apparently knew the law would be coming.

As officers started toward the house, the pudgy-faced Wilk crouched behind the kitchen counter, cradling in his hands a .30-30-caliber Model 94 Winchester lever-action rifle, a seasoned deer hunter's weapon of choice.

When the deputies broke down the door, Fatta and his partner, Deputy Angelo Cedeno, were first into the house.

"Police!" they yelled. "Warrant!"

Wilk waited. As Fatta and Cedeno stormed through the living room and into a hallway that snakes toward the kitchen, Wilk fired several rounds.

One of his bullets blasted off Cedeno's left middle finger before hitting his left shoulder. Another bullet pinned Fatta square in the chest. The other deputies subdued Wilk, then dragged him through the house and into the front yard. One officer pulled out his firearm, Wilk would later tell sheriff's investigators, and furiously jammed the barrel into Wilk's temple.

The deputies had reason to be angry. Fatta and Cedeno were in critical condition. An ambulance raced them to North Broward Medical Center, about seven miles away. But only one of them would survive. The high-caliber bullet that hit Fatta sliced through his Kevlar vest as if it were made of Saran Wrap, then pounded clear through the deputy's flesh, muscle, and bone, nearly putting a hole through his heart.

It's unclear what Fatta knew about Wilk, but one thing is obvious: Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne should have known better than to send the two lawmen barreling through the front door. Since 2001, Wilk -- an ardent rifle lover and longtime member of the gay gun club Pink Pistols -- had earned a well-documented reputation for having an arsenal of rifles and handguns. Wilk had threatened to kill both Neil Spector, the St. Lucie County Sheriff's detective who led the raid, and an unnamed FBI agent who assisted in the 2001 arrest of Wilk's partner, Jones, for child pornography. In fact, a year before Fatta's death, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department marked Wilk's house in police computers, warning any officer called to the location to use extreme caution.

Why didn't Jenne call in BSO's SWAT team, which would have been better equipped and trained for the job? That's the question that the fallen deputy's family has yet to have answered.

A former sheriff's deputy, Roy Vrchota, says BSO violated procedure by not calling in SWAT. He also contends he was demoted for pointing this out at headquarters. One year after Fatta's death, BSO still refuses to release reports related to the incident. "At this point, the U.S. Attorney's Office has instructed us not to comment on the case," spokesman Hugh Graf says.

In December 2004, left without answers, Fatta's family filed a lawsuit in Broward County against Sheriff Jenne. "We want to know why this happened to Todd, why he had to be there," says the deputy's brother, Joe Fatta. "We want to get to the truth."

That truth starts with a man whose mind slowly unraveled as law enforcement targeted his partner.

Ray Hill describes himself as "the old man of Houston's gay community." Now 64, Hill in 1967 was a cofounder of the Promethean Society, the first gay and lesbian organization in Houston, and has remained active in city affairs. In the mid-'90s, at a gay bar, he first met Ken Wilk, a gun enthusiast who told him that he was establishing a Houston chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group. "Ken was definitely outside the mainstream," Hill says.

Wilk's term as president of the Houston Log Cabin Republicans was calamitous, Hill remembers. Wilk wanted respect among both gays and Republicans. "Most of Houston's gays hated the Log Cabins," Hill says. Then came the 1994 election. Catering to conservative voters, Wilk's Log Cabin chapter endorsed a number of candidates. The move backfired. Many of them distanced themselves from Wilk. Steve Mansfield, a Republican running for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, did so after receiving anonymous threats ordering that he denounce the endorsement.