Cover up accusations expose past similar incident for Hendry sheriff

LABELLE, Fla. – An ongoing inquiry into whether Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden tried to bury a hit-and-run case is not the first time he has been accused of covering up a criminal investigation.

“He was actually, not directly, but indirectly telling me don’t press charges to this person because this person is going to go in jail for, for a long time,” said Danny Cruz, a former Hendry County deputy who was referring to a 2012 incident.

Cruz responded to a bar outside LaBelle where he encountered a drunk person passed out on the floor.

“I told him, ‘listen, it’s me, Deputy Cruz from Hendry County Sheriff’s Office,’ and that help is on the way,” Cruz said. “So he immediately kicked me in my groin area, right. At that point I told him, ‘listen, now you’re under arrest.’ So when I grabbed his arm to place him in custody, he grabbed me by my collar, my uniform collar, pulled me towards him, and punched me in my face area, which I suffered a broken lip ’cause of his punches.”

When Cruz arrived at the Hendry County Jail, he said Whidden was waiting for him.

“He said, the sheriff told me that the judge already told him that he was, if he would see him back again in court for the same charges, disturbance or commit battery on another person, that he was going to go in the jail, in the prison system for good because the judge was tired to see him for the same things over and over and over,” Cruz said.

Cruz planned to charge the man with assault on a law enforcement officer, but said Whidden told him he knew the suspect “for a long time” and that “he’s a really good person.”

Cruz ended up giving the suspect a warning for trespassing.

State investigators are currently looking into whether Whidden tried to cover up a Sept. 2015 hit-and-run of a 15-year-old girl. While discussing the case with Whidden, the investigating deputy said the sheriff described the man as “a good guy” and “there’s no reason to go after this case” because the man was about to go to federal prison.

When recently asked by a WINK News reporter about the 2012 incident, Whidden abruptly ended the interview.

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