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Dec. 10, 2004 | Slain deputy's family plans to sue BSO

Relatives of slain Broward sheriff's Deputy Todd Fatta, upset over what they see as indifference and callousness from the BSO, have signaled their intent to file a wrongful death suit against the agency.

"I don't feel like they really care about my brother, " said Todd Fatta's brother, Joe Fatta Jr. "They want what happened swept under the rug."

The family's attorney, Andrew Yaffa, faxed a letter to the sheriff's office Thursday stating that Todd Fatta died as a result of BSO actions.

Todd Fatta was shot and killed by alleged child pornographer Kenneth Wilk around 8:30 a.m. Aug. 19 as he and several others - part of a federal task force - tried to serve a federal warrant on Wilk in his Fort Lauderdale home.

The family claims that the BSO should have sent in a SWAT team to serve the warrant, because the agency knew that Wilk had weapons in his home and had threatened officers in the past.

The SWAT officers have tougher vests than the Kevlar protection Todd Fatta was wearing when he was shot. In addition, SWAT members are specially trained to handle potentially explosive situations.

'UNFORTUNATE'

"It is unfortunate that the family has been put in this position and has to jump through all these hoops to get the information they have been requesting, " Yaffa said Thursday.

"We thought they were going to be cooperative and give the family the information they wanted about Todd's death. Instead, they called us today to tell us, 'We're not interested in meeting.' "

Florida state statutes require that plaintiffs give government entities a six-month notice of intent to sue.

Cheryl Stopnick, spokeswoman for the BSO, said it wouldn't be appropriate for the agency to comment on pending litigation.

The family already has filed a wrongful death suit against Wilk, the man charged in Todd Fatta's shooting death.

The Fatta family says its relationship with the BSO has been strained since the day the deputy was killed.

A captain from the West Seneca, N.Y., police department knocked on the family's door in upstate New York around 9:30 a.m. and handed Josephine Fatta a piece of paper with the BSO's telephone number.

She immediately called the number and learned that her youngest child had been killed in the line of duty.

"The way she was informed of her son's death is consistent with the way they have been treated by BSO for the last few months, " Yaffa said.

After arriving in South Florida the same day of the shooting, the Fattas said they were not allowed to view their son's body for three days.

"They said his body wasn't ready to be looked at, " Joe Fatta Jr. said. "But my parents wanted to see him. They wanted to be with him."

The Broward Medical Examiner's Office had the body, according to the BSO.

The family also was not allowed into Todd Fatta's Pompano Beach home for three days.

"Because he was single, it is routine for BSO to secure the employee's home, knowing it will likely be vacant and will be the focus of widespread publicity, " spokeswoman Stopnick said.

When they finally went inside, they saw that the home had been searched, and various items taken, including Todd Fatta's uniforms. "BSO-issued property is brought back to BSO, " Stopnick said.

Josephine Fatta wants her son's wallet returned, but it is part of the investigation, the BSO said.

The BSO also took Todd Fatta's three personal weapons - handguns and a semi-automatic rifle - according to Joe Fatta Sr.

GUNS SHIPPED TO N.Y.

The weapons were taken for safekeeping, Stopnick said. The BSO tried to give the guns to the family, but they asked that the weapons be shipped to their New York home, Stopnick said.

"ATF in Miami shipped them to the ATF office closest to their home for them to pick up. But New York law does not permit someone without a permit to take possession. Deputy Fatta's brother is in the process of getting a permit so he can do so."

The family also claims that BSO Chaplain Rick Braswell asked them to remove a paragraph from the eulogy they prepared for Todd Fatta's memorial.

The sentences asked that his death be thoroughly investigated to prevent future needless deaths.

"He took us aside and said there were a lot of people who don't want to be reminded of what happened, " Joe Fatta Jr. said.

They put the original handwritten eulogy in Todd Fatta's casket. He was buried in New York, outside the family home in Buffalo.

Braswell denied that he told the family to remove any language from the eulogy.

He said his only concern was for the Fattas and the law enforcement family.

THE STORY SO FAR

Aug. 19: Broward Sheriff's detective Todd Fatta is ambushed and killed as he attempts to serve a federal search warrant at the Fort Lauderdale home of suspected pornographer Kenneth Wilk.

Nov. 15: Roy Vrchota, former BSO assistant inspector general, serves the BSO with a notice of intent to sue under the Whistleblower Act after he said he was demoted for violating the BSO's chain of command and helping to inform Sheriff Ken Jenne of the events leading up to Fatta's death.

Dec. 2: Fatta's family files a wrongful death suit against Wilk.

Dec. 9: Fatta family files a notice of intent to file a wrongful death suit against the BSO. Florida statute requires that government agencies be given a six-month notice of impending lawsuits.

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