Another week, another South Florida cop arrested. This time it's a TV reality star. BSO Dep. Jerry Wengert played a lead role on the TCL reality show "Unleashed: K-9 Broward County," at times making publicity appearances with the sheriff. Also starring was his partner, Det. Geoff Brown, and Bali, the trained BSO Belgian Malinois who tracked (and at times attacked) suspects on the show.
Sheriff Al Lamberti has suspended Wengert without pay after the deputy was arrested on charges of official misconduct, falsifying reports and battery on then-17-year-old Mark Visconti, who was driving home from school at the time of the December 1, 2010 incident.
You can read the arrest affidavit here. Here's what it alleges:
Visconti was on Stirling Road when he stopped and put the car in reverse to pick up friends. Behind him was Wengert's girlfriend, Jessica Mercer, who became angry at his driving. She called Wengert and while on the phone followed the kids to a Wendy's while the deputy sped to the location.
When Wengert got there, he pulled over Visconti as he drove from the restaurant. After asking, "What the f--k is wrong with you?", Wengert yanked him out of the car punched him several times before unleashing Bali, his trained K-9 German Shepherd, on him. Visconti suffered injuries to his face and arm and required medical treatment. The affidavit noted that Visconti is "significantly smaller in size, weight, and muscular build than Deputy Wengert."
Then Wengert charged Visconti with battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence, and reckless driving. The State Attorney's Office prosecuted the case and Visconti ultimately pleaded no contest to the charges with adjudication withheld.
Wengert claimed in the report that he had witnessed him stop and reverse on Stirling Road, something a BSO internal investigator determined wasn't possible. He also denied to fellow deputies that his girlfriend was involved at all, a claim contradicted by records showing documented 17-minute cell phone conversation between Mercer and Wengert at the time of the incident.
There's a lot of controversy about having BSO deputies starring on reality TV shows during Lamberti's tenure, especially after "Police Women of Broward County." But here's an argument for it: If those cameras had been on Wengert at the time, I'd bet such an alleged abuse of power never would have happened.