US FL: Editorial: The Delta Nightmare
Newshawk: Alan Randell
Pubdate: Wed, 16 Aug 2000
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2000 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Website: http://www.newscoast.com/ THE DELTA NIGHTMARE The prison sentences imposed on three former Manatee County deputies Monday were the toughest permitted under federal guidelines, but the punishment hardly measures up to the damage done. During their lawless run as members of the county's elite drug-enforcement team, these men callously abused their power, inflicted pain on innocent people, and seriously damaged the community's confidence in law enforcement. Even the longest of the prison terms looks light.
Former Deputy Paul Maass got the maximum 63 months for tampering with evidence, among other things. Former Sgt. Wayne Wyckoff received 27 months for tampering with evidence, and former Deputy Tommy Wooten was handed 12 months for tampering with a witness and covering up for his colleagues.
"I could not believe this happened in this day and age," federal Judge James Whittemore said during the sentencing.
Indeed, when people began to complain three years ago that officers in the much-praised Manatee Sheriff's Office were planting crack cocaine on them and more, their stories seemed far-fetched.
But the tale grew worse as it unraveled. Some of the officers, the public eventually learned, even got their kicks by stopping motorists and robbing them.
Two more members of the anti-drug force -- Christopher Moore and Lance Carpenter -- await sentencing, and a third, Christopher Wilson, remains under federal investigation. Prosecutors have dropped more than 100 cases against 67 defendants as a result of the scandal, and the Sheriff's Office is now fielding the first in what's likely to be a series of lawsuits.
The department is offering to pay $275,000 to Sarah Smith, a Sarasota resident who had no criminal record prior to her misfortune of crossing paths with the Delta agents. They planted crack cocaine on her, and she served 18 months in jail and under house arrest and lost custody of her daughter.
"No one believed what I said," Smith recalled tearfully in a federal courtroom in Tampa this week, "and I hadn't done anything wrong."
Those words should remain forever planted in the public's memory. The Delta nightmare affirms, again, that none of us should be quick to dismiss complaints of rogue cops.
Contrary to what we want to believe, abuse of police power can occur in this day and age.