LAUDERDALE LAKES — As Raymond Hicks struggles to control the tears that threaten to choke him, Patrice and Martrice Hicks are not so lucky.
For Hicks’ wife and daughter, respectively, the tears flow freely. A family, torn apart by an ordeal that has stolen their dignity and livelihood, can only display the pain that is evident in their faces as they tell their story.
Once a highly decorated Broward Sheriff’s Office corrections deputy, Hicks found himself on the other side of the law eight years ago when the same agency he had served for14 years turned against him, leaving him with emotional distress, embarrassment and the loss of a job, according to a lawsuit he has filed against BSO.
On June 15, 2000, members of his department, along with state police and federal agents, charged him with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine. The penalties carried 10 years to life in prison, plus fines.
A judge denied bond, declaring that Hicks was a flight risk.
After serving 15 months in federal prison, Hicks finally saw his trial begin on Aug. 21, 2001. After more than 30 days of testimony, a 12-person jury on Sept. 26, 2001 took less than 30 minutes to return not-guilty verdicts on all charges against Hicks.
Six jurors in the case told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2002 that they saw no evidence during the trial that should cost Hicks his job, though several faulted him for hanging out with the wrong people.
Even with the acquittal, however, Hicks says his record remains tarnished, and his family continues to suffer to pay off their debts and get their lives back on track.
Hicks, 43, of Lauderdale Lakes, filed suit against BSO on April 24, 2004, alleging that the agency trumped up drug and other charges against him, and that the agency relied on known criminals who made baseless accusations as the foundation for charges against him.
He is seeking back pay and unspecified damages for emotional distress and suffering that he and his family endured.
“Hicks was arrested and charged with a crime he did not commit based upon incomplete and unreliable evidence,” his attorney,
Bruce Little, stated in the civil suit Hicks filed against the Broward Sheriff’s Office and former Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne.
On Oct. 25, 2007, Hicks and Little attempted to settle their case in mediation, but Hicks refused the $50,000 that BSO’s attorney, Michael Piper, offered. Piper said that BSO’s offer does not imply any wrongdoing.
“BSO had a limited role in the investigation. This is what he does not understand. The FBI and other agencies conducted the investigation and a federal court indicted him,” Piper said.
The recipient of a 2004 African American Achievers award from JM Family Enterprises for his work with youth, Hicks is still restricted from doing certain types of work with kids until all records are cleared.
Judge removes himself
In the latest development, Broward Circuit Judge Barry E. Goldstein has removed himself from the case, acknowledging a possible conflict.
The decision came in response to an April 4 motion filed by Hicks’ attorneys asking Goldstein to step away from the case after it was discovered that Goldstein’s brother, Michael Goldstein, had been a major at BSO in charge of human resources.
According to BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright, Maj. Michael Goldstein left the agency in June 2007.
Nevertheless, the motion cited an Aug. 26, 1999 order issued by Judge Barry Goldstein that authorized BSO detectives to place wiretaps on Hicks’ home phone in connection with the discredited drug investigation at the heart of the lawsuit.
Unrelated to his motion filed in the Hicks case, Judge Barry Goldstein announced his retirement effective June 30 after serving more than 17 years on the bench. He did not respond to phone calls seeking comment, and a recorded message at his office referred calls to a secretary, who was not available.
Asked how Judge Goldstein’s exit might influence the case, Coleman-Wright said in an email, “How we proceed with the case remains to be seen. We make it a practice not to comment on pending litigation.”
Piper declined to discuss the latest development, saying it would be “unwise” and “inappropriate” to do so.
During the turmoil that forever impacted his life negatively as well as taking a toll on his family, Hicks said he endured constant police surveillance at his house.
He suffered other indignities as well: Fifteen job applications were rejected because of his arrest record, despite the acquittal; he lost several vehicles to repossession; he almost lost his house to foreclosure; he tolerated bill collectors’ constant harassing phone calls; his daughters were taunted at school; members of his church, New Mount Olive Baptist, ignored his plight; he was denied food stamps and unemployment benefits; he was taken to the emergency room with chest pains diagnosed as stemming from anxiety and depression; and his entire life savings was spent on legal fees, trying to clear his name.
Once a football coach at Boyd Anderson High School, he can no longer be involved in any activity involving children.
“They knew I had not done anything wrong,” he said of BSO investigators. “After at least three years of tapping my phones and undercover surveillance, they knew I was not guilty of anything, but they were simply out to get me.’’
Hicks, a muscular 6-foot-2, 290-pound former University of Missouri football player, began his career with BSO in 1986 as a detention deputy.
He performed well, and after a few years he was personally recruited by then-Sheriff Nick Navarro to become a member of an elite anti-drug unit. The group of undercover deputies ran reverse drug sting operations on streets, throughout the county.
As a member of the team, Hicks says his troubles began quickly in the early 1990s when he confronted fellow team members about the unwarranted, brutal beating of suspects and other abuses. He became unpopular, but the abuses did not let up, he said.
Eventually, he would file written complaints with internal affairs, reporting the beatings and alleging team members were stealing money from suspects, and planting drugs on innocent people.
“I spoke out because it was wrong. At that point, I became an outcast,” he recalled.
Hicks said he gave statements, but never got any response from BSO’s Office of Professional Standards about his complaints.
Then, without explanation, he was no longer a member of the elite anti-drug unit.
Still, he excelled as a detention deputy. He was one of the department’s most highly decorated deputies, receiving countless departmental awards and community recognitions.
During his off hours, he worked with children and ran a program that helped youth obtain their general equivalency high school diplomas. All the while, he and wife Patrice raised their three children. Even then, he still managed to find time to work as an assistant football coach at Boyd Anderson.
He was known as a straight shooter and turned in other deputies who refused to stop a cash ponzi-type scheme operating inside the jail. Hicks said it required deputies, under pressure, to put money into a pool. Each month, a different person would collect the proceeds.
Hicks’ record does have blemishes. In 1997, for example, he was fired from BSO after being accused of abandoning his post and threatening to arrest someone without authority. The incident was resolved when he returned to work several months later, after going through arbitration.
“The arbitrator vindicated me and I have no doubt those charges came from my stopping that scheme,” he said.
Law enforcement zeroes in
In 1999, Hicks and other BSO deputies began frequenting a warehouse at 550 NW 27th Ave., just blocks north of BSO headquarters.
The warehouse was outfitted with a gym for working out, billiard tables, wide screen TVs and a snack bar. Cookouts there attracted NFL players and rap stars wearing thick, gold jewelry, along with their exotic cars and luxury motorcycles.
Around this time, Hicks purchased a used, but good condition Mercedes Benz. He says he began hearing scuttlebutt inside the jail about how could he afford a Mercedes and four-bedroom, two-bath house with two-car garage on his $40,000-a-year salary.
On one occasion, his brother was having the car detailed at a carwash in the area of the warehouse, when swarms of law enforcement searched the car, but presented no warrants.
The law-enforcement agents found nothing incriminating, but the incident upset Hicks.
“I got a call from the carwash and they told me the police were searching my car, so I called our command staff and ask them to have someone meet me at the location, but no one showed up,” Hicks said.
The next day, Hicks filed a complaint with BSO’s Office of Professional Standards, but instead of getting a response, a few days later he got the shock of his life.
“I went to work like always, and went home. While I was in my backyard that evening, I noticed several unmarked police cars in the area. The next thing I knew they were all over my yard yelling at me that I was under arrest,” Hicks recalled.
In federal court the next day, after a four-year investigation, prosecutors stated that Hicks was a flight risk, and a judge denied him bail.
He was booked and then held in a windowless cell in solitary confinement and isolation for months at a federal prison in Miami. He was only allowed outside for an hour per day, a few times per week.
Hicks was eventually placed in a cell in the general prison population, which is dangerous for a member of law enforcement because of retaliation. During that time, he is credited with saving the life of an inmate who suffered a seizure, and was choking.
While serving time in federal prison awaiting trial, Hicks lost his job, and his salary was no longer there to help pay bills. The family’s home went into foreclosure, and while he was sitting in a prison cell, his family suffered through hard economic times and embarrassments.
In addition to his daughter, Martrice, now 21; Hicks and his wife have another daughter, Rayven, 15; and a son, Raymond Jr., 5.
“My wife told me how they were laughed at when they held up the grocery line while the clerk counted out the change they had to use just to buy food to eat,’’ he remembers. “It was and still is hard and even our church would not help us out.”
Hicks contends that evidence has come up missing in the case in which no drugs were ever found, and that most of the people on the BSO witness list – including former sheriff Jenne, who is serving time on corruption charges in a federal prison – have credibility issues.
Despite his acquittal, he said, the saga drags on.
“They will have to bring a group of convicts to try to explain how a police agency did this and it won’t work,’’ Hicks said. “They purposely set out to destroy my life and make my family suffer. But through prayer, we intend to get justice and what Judge Goldstein did is wrong. We won’t rest until I am totally vindicated.’’
Photo: Raymond Hicks