Last year, Stephen Degerdon, then a police officer in Coral Springs, violated a court order and entered the home of his estranged wife, a police officer in Davie. When a neighbor called the Broward Sheriff's Office, the wife, Stacy, lied and claimed her husband wasn't hiding in the house. The incident then blew up into a two-hour SWAT standoff.
Stephen was arrested for violating the no-contact order, but that charge was eventually dropped. Still, he was fired from Coral Springs roughly a month ago for domestic-violence issues, according to a department spokesperson. In October, the State Attorney's Office decided not to charge Stacy with any crimes, and she remains on the job in Davie.
After reviewing the case this week, the Broward County public defender, who represents poor and indigent people, says failure to charge Stacy with obstruction of justice is an example of the State Attorney's Office unfairly shielding law enforcement officers.
"If these guys had not been cops, both of them would have ended up in jail and been prosecuted," Howard Finkelstein tells New Times.
According to police documents, Stephen Degerdon's problems with the law go back to 2011, when he was found to have choked a burglary suspect while on duty. He was fired, but an arbitrator reversed the decision.
Then on April 22, 2015, Stephen Degerdon was arrested for domestic violence after allegedly punching a hole in a kitchen wall, hitting his wife's car with a crowbar, and driving off with their 1-year-old son. A resulting no-contact order specified that he could not come within 500 feet of his wife.
Six days later, though, a neighbor noticed Degerdon's car sitting at a nearby sports complex and called the Broward Sheriff's Office. According to the subsequent incident report, police arrived and knocked on the door. After ten minutes, Stacy answered, and, when asked if Stephen was in the house, she repeatedly said, "No."
The cops called Stephen's phone, but he hung up on them. BSO then called in a SWAT unit, which set up a perimeter around the house. A hostage negotiator also arrived.
At 12:45 p.m., roughly two hours after police arrived, Stacy, at the cops' direction, finally reached Stephen on the phone, and Stephen exited the building. He was arrested.
"It should be noted the on-scene deputies were investigating a possible violation of a no contact order," hostage negotiator Ann Suter wrote later in her report. "This order was issued to protect Stacy from further violence until a restraining order could be obtained. Each time Stacy said no, she willfully obstructed the on scene deputies from performing their authorized duties under the law. Stacy works as a Law Enforcement Officer for the Davie Police Department and should have not obstructed the deputies' on scene investigation." [sic]
In that same report, Suter wrote that Stacy Degerdon had, through a third party, told Stephen he could enter the home to help take care of the family dog. She told investigators that when she entered the house on April 28, she initially didn't see Stephen's car, but after finding him inside playing with their son, she had no issue with his being there.
"I advised Stacy; I was informed by the deputy on the scene that when she walked outside, she was asked if Stephen was there and she said '"No." Stacy confirmed that she did say no, because she thought they were there to serve a restraining order. Stacy stated she was protecting Stephen and she understood it was obstruction."When reached by phone, Stacy Degerdon declined to speak to New Times.
A magistrate judge ultimately found there was no probable cause for Stephen's arrest, because Stacy was "not in fear and had invited Stephen into the home."
But in May of 2015, the State Attorney's Office opened an investigation into Stacy Degerdon's conduct. In October of that year, the office declined to charge her with a crime, stating in a closeout memo that her actions did not constitute "Resisting an Officer Without Violence" or "False Reporting to an Law Enforcement Officer." Ron Ishoy, a spokesperson for the State Attorney Michael Satz's office, said that, because there were not "exigent circumstances" — meaning an immediate emergency — Stacy Degerdon could not be charged with either crime.
Al Smith, an investigator with the Broward Public Defender's Office, said the case shows that police are subjected to a "double standard of justice" in Broward County.
"If one of our clients had been barricaded in a house, they would have probably sent a K-9 unit in," he said. An indigent client "would have definitely been charged with obstruction."
Smith says that in writing the closeout memo, prosecutors "went in there and analyzed every little thing they could to justify not charging her. In terms of 'false reporting,' it's obvious that doesn’t apply. She wasn’t making a false report. What would have been applicable is 'obstruction.'"
Finkelstein too says declining to file charges in this case required "artistry."