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Deputy Down

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In April, the complaint was bolstered by a whistleblower lawsuit filed by Roy Vrchota, the former assistant inspector general of BSO's Internal Affairs unit. Two days after Fatta's death, Jenne had told the Sun-Sentinel that the SWAT team wasn't needed at the residence, claiming that Jones was the only violent member of the couple. Since Jones was already in jail, SWAT wasn't needed: "You've got to remember, the real violent person was Kelly Jones," Jenne told the Sun-Sentinel...

But then a question arises: Why, during the July 14 search of Jones' and Wilk's house, when Jones was already in custody was the SWAT team called?

According to his lawsuit against BSO, Vrchota informed one of BSO's attorneys that Jenne was falsely claiming that the SWAT team wasn't needed. "All indications prior to the execution of the warrant involving the suspects would have required the use of a SWAT team," the suit alleges.

In October, 2004, Lt. Col. Tom Brennan called Vrchota into his office. Brennan told Vrchota that he was "done" at BSO and would be reassigned to an office in South Broward, according to the lawsuit. The reassignment was meant as punishment, the complaint alleges, since Vrchota lives in Deerfield Beach, the northernmost part of the county. Vrchota "was disciplined and otherwise subjected to adverse retaliatory actions in direct response to the statements made by [Vrchota] to disclose the dangers presented to the public health, safety, and welfare," the lawsuit alleges. Rather than take the demotion and reassignment, Vrchota retired.

According to a well-placed source at BSO, Brennan was the one who would have approved the use of the SWAT team on August 19, 2004. Curiously, in February, six months after Fatta's death, Brennan retired early from BSO. He was not scheduled to retire until July 2007, suggesting that Fatta's death may have played a role in his early retirement. (BSO declined a New Times request to review SWAT standard operating procedures, claiming they are part of the federal government's murder case against Wilk.)

But an incident three months after Fatta's death seems to support Vrchota's assertion that the SWAT team was needed at Wilk's and Jones' house.

On November 9, 2004, BSO deputies were called to Cameron Court Apartments at 501 SW 15th Street in Fort Lauderdale to evict 49-year-old Frank Crimi. Deputies discovered that Crimi, who had barricaded himself in his apartment, was involved in a 1999 incident in which a police officer was shot. He'd been found guilty of aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence. That day, the SWAT team was called out. The circumstances were similar to Wilk's: Although he had never shot a police officer, Wilk had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault on a law enforcement officer for threatening Spector. Like Crimi, he was a potential danger to police officers.

Although a year has passed since Wilk gunned down Fatta in his Coral Highlands house, the fallen deputy's family still has too many unanswered questions.

"The tragedy left a huge hole in our life," Joe Fatta says. "Todd is a great loss to our family, and he's a loss to all of his friends. He's a superb loss to society."


The house at 1950 NE 57th St. is as undisturbed as a grave. Signs dot the property, marking that it has been seized by the federal government.

NO TRESPASSING.

Inside, the house is as it was when Fatta barged through the door one year ago. That sheet of reflective material still hangs in the front window. When federal prosecutors bring Wilk to trial later this year, possibly for charges that could carry the death penalty, they plan to show pictures of the inside of this house. Jurors will be able to see how close Wilk was when he unleashed his ferocious rifle on two sheriff's deputies.

They'll also likely hear from those who miss the deputy most. A webpage dedicated to Todd Fatta at the Officer Down Memorial Page (www.odmp.org) has published more than 100 written tributes so far.

Some are intimate. "Every time I go into my wallet and see your picture, I take a moment, I sigh, and a piece of me hurts." It's signed "Lisa... Your Buttercup."

Others are professional. "My heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family and fellow officers of Detective Fatta." It's signed by a New Jersey police officer.

And then there's this, from Officer David Young of the Coral Springs Police Department: "I know they probably don't need a police force in heaven, but if they did, I'm sure you'd be on it."

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson

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