Gerald Wengert, a Broward County, Florida Sheriff’s deputy, was arrested on Saturday a year and a half after he allegedly beat 17-year-old Mark Visconti during a traffic stop, according to news reports. Wengert, 33, was booked into Broward County Jail on charges of battery, official misconduct, and falsifying records. He was released on $2000 bail bond soon after his arrest. It is not known whether he has retained a private criminal defense attorney.
Wengert’s arrest is making headlines, not just because he is a police officer, but because he appeared on a popular reality TV show. Wengert was once featured on Unleashed: K-9 Broward County, a Learning Channel show focused on the use of police dogs in Broward County crime fighting. Wengert was selected for the show because he is a specialized dog handler, reports indicate. He has been suspended without pay from the Sheriff’s office pending the outcome of his trial.
“It bothers me that we have nearly 6,000 dedicated employees doing the right thing every day and people hear more about the mistakes and misdeeds of a few,” Broward County’s sheriff stated in the press release of Wengert’s arrest. “Regardless of the effect, we are not going to sweep anything under the rug.” It is important to note that Wengert is innocent until proven guilty.
According to news reports, the alleged altercation between Wengert and Visconti occurred in December 2010. Sources indicate that on the day of his arrest, Visconti backed up onto Southwest 99th Terrace from Stirling Road in order to greet friends. This apparently aggravated Jessica Mercer, Wengert’s girlfriend, who was driving in the area. Mercer, who was on the phone with Wengert at the time, told the teen that she was calling the police. Instead, she told Wengert what had happened that informed in that Visconti had gone into a Wendy’s restaurant with his friends.
An Internal Affairs investigation of the incident purportedly concluded that Wengert sped to the scene, still on the phone with Mercer. He found Visconti sitting in his car outside of the restaurant and followed him as he drove away. He then pulled Visconti over after driving about a half a mile.
Upon pulling Visconti over, Wengert allegedly started screaming curses at the teen before throwing open the door to Visconti’s vehicle, pulling him out, and slamming him against the side of the car. Visconti and a witness testified that Wengert then proceeded to punch Visconti numerous times, put him in a headlock, and release his police dog before calling for backup. Visconti and the witness purportedly claim that the violence was never reciprocated.
Following his arrest, Visconti was treated at a nearby hospital for injuries to his legs and face. Meanwhile, Wengert was allegedly busy writing a police report that falsely stated that Visconti had almost hit a car when he backed up on Stirling Road. Instead, according to the investigation, Mercer had almost hit a vehicle while reprimanding the teen.
Visconti ended up being charged with reckless driving, resisting arrest without violence, and battery of a law enforcement officer. He pled no contest to the charges.