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Oct. 31, 2007 | Deputies say fatal raid was botched

The operation: Serve search warrants on a suspected child pornographer who was believed to be armed with multiple weapons and had threatened to kill law enforcement officers.

Broward Sheriff's Deputy Ben Anderson, an auto theft detective assigned to the risky mission, said when he noticed none of the tactical SWAT teams specially equipped and trained to handle dangerous operations on the scene, he became instantly concerned.

"Where's SWAT?" he recalls asking the on-scene commander.

"He looked at me and he said, 'Ben, they're not coming. Suit up.' "

Anderson's statement and others made by those who played key roles in the Aug. 19, 2004, raid were revealed for the first time as part of a wrongful death suit brought against the Broward Sheriff's Office by the family of a deputy killed in the raid.

Anderson was among the first deputies who stormed the house. The suspect, Kenneth Wilk, was armed and waiting. Todd Fatta, 33, the deputy who led the team inside, was shot dead. Deputy Angelo Cedeno was wounded in the hand, shoulder and face.

The story that the deputies have described in sworn testimony is one not only of a botched raid but of commanders who disregarded agency policies and placed officers and deputies in danger.

During a deposition last week, an attorney for the family asked BSO Deputy Najmy Halabi, who participated in the raid, whether he believed Fatta would be here today if BSO had followed its own procedures.

Halabi's one-word answer: "Yes."

The assertion brought some solace. "It makes you feel honorable again to know that the system does work and that they're telling the truth, " Fatta's brother, Joe Fatta Jr., said Tuesday. "All the guys are finally speaking out on our behalf and on Todd's behalf. He is the one that paid the ultimate price that day."

Up until now, deputies said the agency prohibited them from speaking about the raid because BSO officials feared it could harm their criminal case against Wilk, who was convicted of murder and attempted murder in June and sentenced to life in prison in August.

The BSO would not discuss specifics of the lawsuit.

"In any lawsuit, a deposition is going to represent one individual's recollection of the events of the day, " said BSO spokesman Elliot Cohen. "There will be many depositions taken in this case."

Legal experts called the deputies' admissions devastating to the BSO -- not just to the agency's case but to its credibility in general.

"Not only did you not handle this right back in 2004, but look what you have put the family through -- and why did you not come out and admit it?" asked Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University.

"To have stonewalled for three years, it seems incredible."

The BSO has long faced tough questions about the raid, which was organized by a multiagency federal task force led by BSO. Deputies and other law enforcement officials privately criticized the BSO, which had documented evidence that Wilk was armed and dangerous.

Then-Sheriff Ken Jenne responded to the criticisms by saying: "We cannot call out the SWAT team every time we do this."

Also giving a deposition was Neil Spector, a Port St. Lucie County detective who was part of the task force. While his deposition has not yet been transcribed, Fatta's attorney, Andrew Yaffa, said Spector testified he too had misgivings about how the raid was handled.

For one thing, the task force was supposed to wait Wilk out, not storm the house, Yaffa said. Spector testified that he was taken aback when the decision was made to breach Wilk's door.

Yaffa quoted Spector saying in his statement: "What was the rush? Any of us could have called SWAT."

He then added, according to Yaffa: "The deputies were sitting ducks."

Wilk, 44, who had been living at the Fort Lauderdale home with another man, Kelly Ray Jones, had once been charged with threatening a police officer over the Internet.

Police knew Wilk had a concealed weapons permit and owned a number of high-powered weapons.

Fort Lauderdale police officers were so queasy about the people in the sprawling home in the city's Coral Highlands neighborhood that they had red-flagged it in their computers.

The SWAT team had drawn up a plan detailing the layout just in case a siege ever took place.

Halabi said he did not recall being told Wilk likely was armed, or that he had been making threats against law officers.

Anderson said he became alarmed about the raid after reading the operational plan for it as deputies were preparing to go in.

He said he expressed his concerns to Lt. Kevin Butler, who was in charge of the scene.

To this day, he said, he still does not know whether his call for a SWAT team was sent up the chain of command or whether a SWAT team was available.