WEST PALM BEACH — Shortly before his 17th birthday, Maciel Videla introduced an undercover sheriff's deputy to drug dealers. It cost him his life.
Wrongly assuming that Videla had ratted them out when he was arrested and quickly released on unrelated burglary charges, the drug dealers slit his throat, nearly decapitating him. They dumped his body in a canal west of Lantana, sheriff's officials and prosecutors say.
However, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, the undercover deputy knew the drug dealers were angry with Videla.
"We'll take care of him," deputy Joaquin Fonseca said a drug dealer told him, pressing him not to drop plans for a roughly $100,000 cocaine deal.
During a deposition in the murder case, Fonseca said he didn't tell superiors about the comment until after Videla's December 2008 death. "I didn't have the opportunity," he said. Less than 24 hours later, the youth was dead.
Attorney Steven Gomberg, who is representing Videla's mother and stepfather in a wrongful death suit against Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, said the failure to protect the youth is unconscionable.
"He did nothing," he said. "He was focused on his drug investigation."
Attorney Harriet Lewis, who represents Bradshaw, said the agency had no obligation to protect Videla.
Fonseca had no idea Videla would be hurt, much less killed. "He didn't say I'm going to hurt him. I'm going to kill him. I'm going to slit his throat," she said.
Unless the agency promises to protect someone and fails to do so, it isn't liable, she said. "We owe no duty to protect the general public. All we can do is try to solve crime once it occurs. To have it otherwise would bankrupt every department in the country," she said.
A Tallahassee lawyer, who helped author a 2009 state law to regulate police use of confidential informants, said officers should protect those who help them enter the dangerous underworld. The law was named after Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old who was killed while doing a drug buy for Tallahassee police as an informant.
"In a lot of cases, these are throw away people," said attorney Lance Block. The law makes it clear that people - whether it be an informant, a bystander or a law enforcement officer - can't be sacrificed for a sting operation, he said.
The law was passed too late to help Videla or his family. But Block said the case underscores why Rachel's Law is needed.
Videla's mother and stepfather said they can't understand why Fonseca didn't intervene. After spending months looking for their son, who had run away from their Greenacres home, they were shocked he had been used in a drug probe.
"We were so surprised," said his stepfather, Oscar Sanchez, who moved his family from Argentina for a better life. "We had no idea they knew where my son was."