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Deputy Down

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Todd watched in admiration as Joe left the house to become a firefighter and paramedic in his early 20s. "In some ways, Todd wanted to follow in my footsteps," Joe says. After moving out, the older brother left his dumbells for Todd, and the younger Fatta could often be found pumping iron in his spare time. Even then, his brother says, he was preparing for life as a cop.

After graduating from high school, Todd enrolled in Erie Community College, in Williamsville, New York, and earned an associate's degree in criminal justice while working part-time at a department store. Immediately following graduation, in 1991, Fatta enrolled in the Air Force. The government stationed Todd in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He got his wish when he was named a military police officer.

Four years later, Todd decided to leave the service in hopes of landing a job policing civilians. One of his sisters had recently moved to South Florida, and in 1994, with Broward's population booming, Todd figured he could find work.

On January 31, 1995, he filled out an application at BSO headquarters on Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. He was eager and honest. Where the application asked if he'd ever used illegal drugs, he answered: "Once took a drag from a marijuana cigarette in high school." Fatta was a good guy, not an angel.

The psychologist who interviewed Todd was impressed with his maturity, honesty, and experience, according to BSO personnel records. "This is an exceptional candidate," the psychologist wrote.

"Todd would seem shy at first -- until you got to know him," Joe remembers. "Then he'd become very charming and talkative. Once you had a little bond, he loved to talk. Everybody loved him."

In spring 1995, BSO offered him a job as a road patrol deputy in the Tamarac division, earning about $30,000 per year.

"Todd was a topnotch cop, always well-respected, and never hesitated to lend a hand," remembers Jeff Snyder, a former BSO deputy in Tamarac who now runs a company that provides drug-sniffing dogs. "He had a passion for his work."

Todd first worked in the patrol unit, then transferred to BSO's auto theft division and later to narcotics. "There was always the concern of potential dangers," Joe says. "He always went ahead and trained himself and kept physically fit. For example, he was issued a bulletproof vest at BSO, and he took it upon himself to buy the next grade up. That's how seriously he took the risk."

At about 10 a.m. on August 19, 2004, the cameras waited for Sheriff Ken Jenne in a reception area at the North Broward Medical Center in Deerfield Beach. The impromptu press conference had the career politician noticeably shaken; his face was flushed, his eyes red, his voice nasal. Dressed in a blue oxford shirt with a striped black-and-red tie, Jenne took position in front of a half-circle of news cameras.

"Today is one of those days that you wish didn't happen, but it did," Jenne began, then looked toward the ceiling and cleared his throat loudly. "As we do every morning, seven days a week, 365 days a year, people from law enforcement do their duty. We forget sometimes how dangerous it is to them, those around them, and how very important a job it is. At 8:50 today, one of Broward County's deputy sheriffs was killed, another wounded."

Jenne went on to explain that the deputies were assisting a LEACH investigation. "Deputy Todd Fata-tah is dead," Jenne continued, mispronouncing the last name. "He was killed. What I would describe as a high-caliber projectile capable of penetrating his vest penetrated that vest and hit him in the chest area. He has been pronounced dead at this hospital."

The questions that Jenne refused to answer then -- and has yet to answer -- are obvious: Since BSO knew that Wilk was an armed man who had made threats against police, why wasn't the SWAT team called in? If it wasn't called in, whose mistake was it?

At Fatta's memorial service on August 24, 2004, those were the questions his brother Joe wanted to raise. He included, as part of a eulogy that he had written, a request that BSO investigate the circumstances of Todd's death to ensure that similar mistakes would never cost another deputy's life. A BSO chaplain requested that he remove the statement. Joe agreed, believing that in the following days and weeks, Jenne would be forthcoming about why the SWAT team wasn't called. That wasn't the case, so in December 2004, Todd's family filed a lawsuit against Broward's sheriff in an effort to reveal the truth. "We want to know more about why Todd was there and who made the decision," Joe Fatta says.

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson

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