Court hearing calls Hendry sheriff’s credibility into question

LaBelle, Fla. — Concerns have been raised about the possible relationship between Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden and an accused drug dealer.

Court records show that Jose Deahora was under investigation by the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office in January 2012. He was arrested in 2013 and charged with trafficking hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic opioid. He had a court hearing in Hendry County two weeks ago on Oct. 19.

However, a debate ensued about whether Sheriff Whidden could testify at Deahora’s trial.

“The idea that somebody would be accused of a first degree felony would be looking at a mandatory minimum penalty in prison and that that person, the defense, would call the sheriff as a witness is very unusual,” said Russel Kirshey, Charlotte County attorney who is unrelated to the case.

Court transcripts show Diane Gonzalez, Deahora’s attorney, said in the Oct. 19 hearing that Deahora’s association with Sheriff Whidden would affect Whidden’s credibility.

The state attorney deposed Whidden to find out if he had any information relevant to Deahora’s case and it turned out he didn’t.

“The testimony that the sheriff gave during that deposition was solely that he knew the defendant as an acquaintance during the 2008 campaign for the sheriff’s election and the 2012 campaign election. The defendant happened to participate in that campaign,” the assistant state attorney said in court.

Court records show that Deahora was already under investigation for drug trafficking during the 2012 campaign while he was an honorary deputy with the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office.

“Honorary deputy cards are used to get people out of tickets,” Kirshney said. “You show the Honorary Deputy card. That is a hint to the officer who’s stopped you that you are a friend of the sheriff.”

Judge James Sloan had an issue with Deahora having such a card.

“It does concern the court that the sheriff’s department is issuing honorary IDs to someone that they currently have under investigation for criminal offenses,” Sloan said. “I find that to be very curious.”

The judge granted the state’s motion to exclude Whidden from testifying in Deahora’s case if it went to trial, but Deahora pled no contest and will be sentenced next week.

Whidden is currently the subject of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation for potentially interfering with his department’s investigation of a September 2015 hit-and-run crash involving a 15-year-old girl. One of his deputies has been charged with contempt of court and three counts of perjury in a separate case.

Whidden couldn’t be reached for comment.

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