Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein thinks that deputies from the Broward Sheriff's Office are juiced up like Barry Bonds wannabes and that they've been hiding it for several years.
Finkelstein's complaint, sent to the Department of Justice last week, contends some devious tactics were involved in not prosecuting the 26 alleged 'roiders known as BSO deputies.
"After several public records requests, my office has pieced together a scenario that smacks of the obstruction of justice and corruption," Finkelstein writes.
He says the public defender's office was never alerted to the fact that the deputies were under criminal investigation -- which is required by law -- contending that BSO was purposely hiding the information.
"My office has had ongoing concerns regarding the state attorney's lack of investigation into or prosecution of criminal conduct by police," Finkelstein says. "It is our belief that the state's failure to prosecute law enforcement is based not only on its decision to protect the police, but also its decision, however misguided, to insulate the state from its obligations..."
Finkelstein says he got wind of what was going on when he was alerted by South Florida Times reporter Elgin Jones to the BSO internal report on steroid use.
That report details several deputies' paying and receiving steroids without a prescription. After a meeting between an assistant state attorney and a pair of BSO administrators, the State Attorney's Office said that it wanted to close the case and that BSO should handle it internally.
Now Finkelstein says it's also a civil rights violation, since the state willingly prosecutes criminals all the time, but when the suspect is a cop, "the state attorney reneges in its duty to prosecute crimes."
"The special treatment given to law enforcement is deeply troubling and violated the integrity of our justice system," he says. "The consequences of the state attorney turning a blind eye to police crime are far-reaching."
The South Florida Times asked a State Attorney's Office spokesman about the allegations, and his response was pretty weak:
"...this appears to be just another one of Mr. Finkelstein's spurious and unfounded allegations about this office as part of his effort to defend his criminal defendants," spokesman Ron Ishoy said. "We can say that there was absolutely no impropriety at any time in the way the State Attorney's Office handled any allegations concerning whether or not Broward Sheriff's deputies or civilians fraudulently obtained steroids."
Ishoy would likely lead you to believe that Finkelstein is bordering on near-lunacy, but in ending his letter to the Justice Department, Finkelstein makes a point that ought to resonate with those familiar with how Broward County operates:
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If the police are assured that they will not be prosecuted, there is no need for restraint. The state attorney has sent a loud and clear message to law enforcement in Broward County -- your behavior, be it criminal or abusive, will not be prosecuted. The state attorney's failure to police the police, coupled with the fact that Broward County sends a disproportionate number of minorities to prison, has fostered a deeply ingrained belief that neither the police, nor the government, can be trusted. This pervasive mistrust envelopes our justice system and is devastating to our community.
I assure you that I do not send this letter lightly. It is only because Broward County is steeped in a culture of corruption that I reach beyond its borders for assistance.