FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- The Broward Sheriff's Office failed to follow its own policies in a botched 2004 raid that left Detective Todd Fatta dead, Sheriff Al Lamberti acknowledged Thursday as the agency reached a $2 million settlement with the late deputy's family.
A special weapons unit, commonly known as a SWAT team, should have been used to execute the arrest warrant for Kenneth Wilk, a child porn suspect who was known to be armed and hate police, Lamberti said.
"We are here today to let everyone know that the right thing to do is take care of this so the family has closure ... and that we have healing in the Broward Sheriff's Office," Lamberti told a news conference.
Wilk shot Fatta, 33, once in the chest with a Winchester rifle and wounded Sgt. Angelo Cede o when sheriff's deputies raided his Fort Lauderdale home on Aug. 19, 2004.
Jury selection in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Fatta's family had been set to begin Monday. If the case had gone to trial, a parade of former and current Sheriff's Office personnel could have been called to the witness stand, including former Sheriff Ken Jenne, who was in charge when Fatta was killed.
After Thursday's news conference, Fatta's mother, Josephine Fatta, embraced Lamberti. The family has said its lawsuit wasn't about money, but finding out the truth. "We miss our son very much," Josephine Fatta said. "It took four years for this to come to an end."
Under Thursday's court-approved settlement, the Sheriff's Office agreed to pay $200,000 to Fatta's family - the maximum allowed under state law. The agency also will endorse a $1.8 million claims bill for the state Legislature's approval.
Fatta's family had argued it was clear a SWAT team should have been used to arrest Wilk. Rank-and-file personnel were also afraid to question their superiors' decisions because Jenne's administration fostered a culture of fear and intimidation, the family's attorneys said.
A team consisting entirely of SWAT members had been used at the same home a month earlier to search for child pornography. At that time, Wilk's partner, Kelly Ray Jones, was arrested.
In addition, Sheriff's Office plans for both raids warned of guns in the home. Wilk had a gun on him during a previous search and a history of run-ins with law enforcement.
A federal jury convicted Wilk last year of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison. Wilk is appealing. One of his arguments is that the judge improperly excluded evidence that the Sheriff's Office botched the raid.
Lamberti said that while the agency failed to take every precaution possible, "Kenneth Wilk was obviously hell-bent on killing a deputy that day."
The Fatta family's attorneys, who have been critical of Jenne's administration, commended Lamberti at Thursday's news conference.
"You [Lamberti] are the first person to stand up and face the family and tell them the truth," said Andrew Yaffa, one of the lawyers.
Jenne said in a sworn statement last month that Fatta wouldn't have been killed if the agency had obeyed its own policies and used the better-equipped SWAT members. Jenne made the admissions in a deposition he gave at a federal prison in Virginia, where he had been serving a sentence for mail fraud and conspiracy.
Lamberti announced Thursday he has put together a committee to examine what went wrong with the raid. After Fatta's death, the Sheriff's Office revised its SWAT policy, calling for the team to execute any forced entries and to have paramedics on scene. That policy will be named in Fatta's honor as part of the settlement.
Fatta's father said his son knew at an early age he wanted to be a police officer.
"He always wanted to do things right," said Joseph Fatta Jr.
Jon Burstein can be reached at email@example.com 954-356-4491.
THE DEAL: The Sheriff's Office agreed to pay $200,000 to Deputy Todd Fatta's family and will endorse a $1.8 million claims bill for approval by the state Legislature.
IN MEMORIAM: The Sheriff's Office revised SWAT policy, which calls for the team to execute any forced entries and to have paramedics on scene, will be named in Fatta's honor.
In the line of duty
For a complete list of South Florida officers seriously wounded or killed in recent years, go to Sun-Sentinel. com/fallenofficers