The Broward Sheriff’s Office is not providing any explanations, but a tape recording of a wiretapped phone conversation and other documents that are being described as key evidence in a lawsuit filed against the agency have now surfaced after more than eight years.
Raymond Hicks, 43, of Lauderdale Lakes, filed the lawsuit on April 22, 2004 alleging he was wrongfully fired and maliciously prosecuted on trumped up drug trafficking charges at the hands of BSO brass after complaining about corruption within the department. “After all of this time, we finally have the tape,” said Hicks, a former BSO detention deputy who was acquitted of all charges in the drug case. “This tape will help me clear my name,” he said.
Hicks said he had not been able to obtain the documents despite making countless public records requests over the past eight years, or so. “They told me they couldn’t find it, then they said it was in the court file,” he recalled.
“We make it a practice not to discuss pending litigation. This case will be settled through the judicial system, not the media,” explained Veda Coleman-Wright, BSO’s senior public information officer in an email.
Hicks’ attorney, Bruce H. Little, of Fort Lauderdale, had issued subpoenas to get copies of the records, and filed numerous pleadings seeking to have the court to issue an order that would force BSO to hand them over.
In response to an April 2006 motion to compel, BSO submitted a sworn affidavit from internal affairs investigator and Commander Joseph Fitzpatrick.
“The Broward Sheriff’s Office, through the Internal Affairs Division as well as through the Records Division and Risk Management, has searched for the tape recording which is the subject of Plaintiff’s April 5, 2006 Motion to Compel (and subsequent orders),” wrote Fitzpatrick in an affidavit filed with the court on Feb. 22, 2007.
“The Broward Sheriff’s Office has not located the tape and is not presently in possession, custody, or control of the tape,” the affidavit further affirmed.
The tape is a recording of a July 23, 1999 wiretapped conversation that took place between Bernard Smith, one of five co-defendants along with Hicks, in the federal drug trafficking case, and then BSO deputy Bernard Brown, III, who is now a detective in the department.
Little did not return calls to the newspaper, but Hicks said, “I believe they intentionally withheld the tape and the other records.”
Hicks had been accused of providing confidential department information to the co-defendants. During the trial it was learned it was actually Brown – not Hicks – that is heard during the wiretapped conversation.
Providing confidential investigative information to outsiders violates department policy and doing so could run afoul of state laws.
The tape in question details how Smith, who was under investigation for drug trafficking at the time, made a call to Brown seeking information.
On it, Brown can be heard in a profanity laced phone conversation replete with racial slurs, agreeing to assist Smith in determining what BSO investigators were after when they came looking for one of Smith’s brothers.
Brown asked Smith for descriptions of the deputies and suggested they may have been from the fugitive squad, indicating it may have been a possible child support matter.
“…Was it that real big cracker,” Brown questioned.
After explaining that the uniforms they wore may not identify the unit they were from, he agreed to check into it.
“But, I can what I’ll do tonight is a, while I’m at work I can have one of my girls run his name,” the voice, confirmed to be that of Brown’s, responded.
Brown went on to ask Smith for his brother’s name and date of birth, which Smith said he wasn’t sure, but agreed to call Brown right back with that information.
At trial, and while undergoing questioning by federal prosecutor Kathleen Rice, Smith testified that several BSO employees had in fact done favors for him, but he had only asked Brown to run checks on the driver’s licenses of family members, nothing more.
Smith denied that Hicks had done any favors for him.
“I don’t get personal favors from Raymond Hicks. All me and Raymond Hicks ever do was to spot each other for weights,” Smith testified.
During further questioning from Rice, Smith was asked to identify the law enforcement officials who did favors for him.
“Bernard Brown. But I don’t call no Raymond Hicks for asking no favors like that,” he testified.
Brown could not be reached for comment and did not respond to interview requests sent to him through BSO’s Media Relations Department. Smith also named several other BSO deputies. His discussion with Brown, however, is the only one that is supported with a recorded phone conversation.
Following the trial, Fitzpatrick conducted an Internal Affairs investigation into Smith’s allegations against Brown. During questioning by Fitzpatrick, Brown acknowledged it was he who is heard on the wiretapped phone conversation agreeing to get the information for Smith.
“That was in the middle of the day, and I was asleep, and um, I think at the time I was working at night, you know on midnight shift at that time, and I don’t remember contacting anybody about that information,” Brown told Fitzpatrick.“I don’t remember even getting back to him about any information about that.”
Brown went on to explain that he and Smith grew up in the same central Broward neighborhood, and that their parents were from the same town in Georgia.
Despite the tape recording detailing the conversation and the testimony from the trial, Brown was cleared of any wrongdoing, as described in a May 17, 2002 final report where the allegations were determined to be unfounded. Brown remains with the department and has been promoted to detective.
After finally being able to review the files, and listen to the recording, Hicks says he has little confidence in the investigation, because it wasn't handled by an outside agency.
“I spent time in jail because they thought it was me on that tape,” he said. “My life is destroyed because of this, and after eight long years the tape now appears out of nowhere.”
Exactly how, and why the documents have now turned up remains a mystery. BSO has declined to discuss the issue.
Fitzpatrick, who conducted the investigation and submitted the affidavit to the court, did not return calls seeking comment.
Hicks has a theory of what may have taken place and said an independent investigation is warranted.
“I went to BSO, paid a deposit [several weeks ago] and the next day they called to say everything was ready. There are new people in that office, so they just gave it to me,” Hicks offered. “I think they handed them over without knowing others in that department had been claiming for years that they did not have them for the past eight years.”
He added, “I believe they had the tape all the time, but refused to turn it over because they knew it would show they had no evidence against me.”
JAILED FOR OVER A YEAR
Once a highly decorated Broward Sheriff’s Office corrections deputy for 14 years, Hicks, was arrested on June 15, 2000, along with five other men after BSO and federal agents wrapped up a four-year drug investigation.
After a judge declared he was a possible flight risk, he spent the next 15 months in a Miami federal prison while awaiting trial, which began on Aug. 21, 2001.
By the time defense attorneys and prosecutors had begun their closing arguments more than 30-days later, nearly two-dozen witnesses had been heard.
A 12-person jury on Sept. 26, 2001, took less than 30 minutes to return not-guilty verdicts on all charges, against all of the defendants.
After the verdict was read, U.S. District Court Judge Norman C. Roettger signed an order for all of the defendants to be immediately set free.
Hicks says his entire ordeal began in the early 1990’s after he began turning in fellow deputies, whom he had accused of planting evidence on innocent people, and stealing money confiscated from drug suspects during stings.
He has been trying to clear his name ever since and has made several unsuccessful attempts to have the drug case expunged from federal court records.
Hicks said that life has been hard and his family was burdened unnecessarily since his arrest. He has been turned down for numerous jobs, had vehicles repossessed, and the family nearly lost their home to foreclosure.
His eldest daughter was not able to attend college and the family blames it all on the false allegations levied against him.
His lawsuit seeks back pay, loss wages, and unspecified damages for the emotional turmoil he and his family have endured.
He said the newly obtained documents may help in that effort, and in his civil case.
“It’s a long, tough fight, but this is a major development, and a blessing from God, so me and my family will just keep on praying,” Hicks said.