Case against deputy adds to trouble for Hendry sheriff

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LABELLE, Fla. — Perjury and contempt-of-court charges against a high-ranking sergeant in the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office are raising more questions about Sheriff Steve Whidden.

Whidden is 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.

Court documents show Sgt. Robert Archer sought a judge’s approval to search a trailer, but the judge didn’t sign the search warrant. Archer searched the trailer anyway, leading to multiple drug-related charges against its occupant that wound up being dropped.

The state attorney’s office subsequently filed its contempt charge against Archer.

“So, now every single case he’s brought to the state attorney’s office is going to get peppered with ethical issues,” said Sawyer Smith, a Fort Myers attorney who’s dealt with similar cases. “It’s a problem for the state attorney’s office.”

It wasn’t until two months later, when Archer was additionally charged with lying on the search warrant, that Whidden put him on administrative leave with pay, pending the outcome of the case. Archer’s trial is set for December.

“The sheriff of Hendry County, knowing he has a higher ranking officer accused of crimes of dishonesty, should have pulled him from the streets,” Smith said.

Archer’s attorney, Lee Hollander, said he can’t comment because he doesn’t have all the evidence in the case. Whidden didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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