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Wives Maintained Lonely Vigil as Scandal Changed Their Lives

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The accused and their wives were gathered in a hallway and a witness room of the U.S. District Courthouse on Monday, smoking cigarettes and making small talk, when the word came: The verdict was in.

All conversation stopped. Smiles fell from faces. One deputy reached for his tie. Wives clutched their husbands’ hands.

After the attorneys had gathered from across town, it was time for the seven deputies to enter the courtroom--244p, U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie presiding. They crossed the threshold followed closely by reporters, who kept a respectful silence. The defendants were about to learn how their lives were to be changed, perhaps forever.

The central question--guilt or innocence, and all its attendant ramifications--was etched in the faces of the deputies’ wives.

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They did not have to wait long for the answer.

“We find the defendant . . . guilty as charged,” were the words the judge read over and over again, substituting one defendant’s name for another, each accusation for the one that followed, until the guilty verdicts numbered more than two dozen.

And so it was that six sheriff’s narcotics officers, once considered among the finest within the Sheriff’s Department, were convicted of conspiring to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from suspected drug dealers. A seventh deputy was found guilty of illegally structuring currency transactions to evade reporting requirements.

The courtroom was calm as the verdicts were read. The defendants appeared stoical.

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There had been many days during the long course of the trial when the courtroom had been packed, filled with relatives of the defendants, fellow officers and curious outsiders.

On this day, most of the spectators were absent. Many seats were empty, as only the wives of the accused showed up to support their husbands. These four sat together in the rear rows.

Yhvona Garner, wife of Daniel Garner, sat with Jan Amers, the wife of defendant Terrell H. Amers. Across the aisle were the spouses of defendants Eufrasio G. Cortez and Ronald E. Daub.

After the verdicts were read, Rafeedie polled the jurors. The four women looked earnestly at the jury, as if they hoped there had been some mistake, that one of the jurors would speak up and say that what was read and how they voted were not the same.

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There was no mistake.

Daub’s wife, her hands folded, began to cry.

For Yhvona Garner, it evoked angry recollections of all those lonely nights when her husband was out on the street, putting his life on the line. It seemed to her that the justice system that her husband had served so faithfully in the end had failed him, miserably.

“I get really angry thinking of all the hours he was away,” Garner, whose husband has been in the Sheriff’s Department for 18 years, would say later. “His life was put on the line several times. To think I could have lost him.

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“Being a cop’s wife” she said shaking her head, “is not easy.”

One of the trial gadflies who gathered after the verdicts had been announced quickly went to work analyzing the effect of the moment on the deputies and their families.

“As long as they live . . . this’ll be there,” said Joe Fernandez, 58. He gestured toward the Amers as they walked arm in arm down the courthouse hallway: “See that? That’s a family in ruin.”

Garner, standing in the hallway, said she could attest to that.

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“I think what they put us through is horrible,” she said.

In the months since her husband was indicted, she said, her family has endured the stares and speculation that come when your name is splashed regularly across the nightly news. She remembered the discomfort caused when her husband’s picture would appear on the television of the beauty shop, where she worked styling hair.

“When it all first happened,” she said, “it was embarrassing. It was embarrassing trying to explain the injustice.”

After conferences with their attorneys, four of the deputies left the courtroom in a small band. Their sentencing will come later. Yhvona Garner walked from the courthouse with her husband. He wore dark glasses. She held his hand.

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