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    Former deputies get prison


    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 15, 2000

    TAMPA -- With tears spilling down her cheeks, Sarah Smith told a federal judge Monday how she'd been wrongly arrested, convicted, sent to jail and denied custody of her daughter, all because of lies by the Delta squad of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

    Three defendants, former deputies in that elite unit, sat sullenly across from her.

    "Nobody wanted to have anything to do with me," sobbed the 22-year-old. "They thought I'm some drug addict and nobody believed anything I said and I hadn't even done anything wrong."

    Soon after, U.S. Circuit Judge James Whittemore sentenced the former deputies to terms ranging from one to five years for their roles in a case of lawmen-gone-bad that included bogus search warrants, planted evidence, beatings, theft and drug distribution.

    The sentences were the maximum under federal guidelines.

    The three men each had entered plea agreements and are cooperating with federal authorities who continue to investigate corruption at the Manatee Sheriff's Office.

    All three expressed remorse Monday.

    "Throughout my career, I was not a bad cop," said Wayne Wyckoff, a former sergeant of the Delta squad who admitted to signing off on false reports on Smith and another victim of trumped up charges and to lying to officials who tried to investigate victims' complaints.

    "Somewhere along the line, I changed," said Wyckoff, who faces 27 months in prison followed by 27 months' probation.

    Paul Maass, who pleaded guilty to four charges, including conspiracy to violate civil rights and distribute crack cocaine, was sentenced to five years and two months in prison and three years' probation. He was ordered to pay more than $13,000 restitution, including $2,762 to Smith.

    Thomas Wooten was sentenced to 12 months, followed by three years' probation. Wooten had pleaded guilty to four charges, including conspiracy, witness tampering and failing to report a felony.

    Wooten's parents and sister, sitting in the last row, left the courtroom in tears.

    During his final statement, Maass turned to Smith and apologized.

    Then Whittemore, too, spoke directly to Smith, who stayed to watch the sentencing.

    "I could give him 100 years and that time in your life would not be replaced," he told her.

    In November 1997, Smith was watching her 1-year-old daughter when masked deputies burst through the front door. They handcuffed her, took her to jail, and left behind her daughter, who spent the night alone.

    Smith didn't know she'd been charged with possession of crack cocaine until she went before a judge. She fought the charges but was found guilty by a jury. She spent several months in jail after she couldn't stand being under house arrest.

    Smith settled a civil suit against the Manatee County Sheriff's Office for $275,000 last week. She has other suits pending against individual deputies.

    After wrongdoing by the Delta squad came to light in April 1998, more than 100 charges were dropped against 67 defendants. Dozens of civil actions are expected against the sheriff's office and individual deputies.

    Whittemore bemoaned the damage in public trust wreaked by the defendants' misdeeds.

    Repercussions will be felt "for generations," he told the former deputies who he said had stained the reputation of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and reinforced beliefs among residents that law enforcement and the judicial system is "crooked."

    A fourth former Delta squad deputy, Lance D. Carpenter, is scheduled for sentencing Friday. He pleaded guilty in April to four federal charges.

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