Broward Turmoil

A Fort Lauderdale man who says he is trying to rid his neighborhood of drug addicts and criminals has been ordered by a judge to stay away from five homeless men, who say he is a vigilante who chased them with a chain saw and threatened to kill them.
Broward Circuit Judge Julio Gonzalez Jr. on Monday ordered Stephen D. Sticht, 49, to have no further contact with the five men and to surrender any weapons to law enforcement until a formal hearing can be held on April 17. Police said Monday they have had no recent complaints of criminal activity by Sticht and that some of the allegations against him come from known criminals suspected in area burglaries. But the homeless men said they have tried complaining to police, to no avail, and accuse Sticht in court records of posting “Wanted” posters of homeless people, one of which offered a $500 reward for a particular “crackhead.”
The homeless are being helped by members of Legal Aid and the Public Defender’s Office, who are gathering with members of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition for the Homeless today to protest at a news conference. ‘If nothing is done about this, one of us is going to end up dead,” James E. Brown, one of the five men, said in an interview.
Sticht, a building consultant and artist, says he has never threatened anyone or done anything illegal to prevent rampant crime near his business in Middle River Terrace. And he didn’t make the wanted posters, he said “This isn’t a homeless problem, this is a crack-head problem,” he said in an interview. “These people just aren’t down there taking a nap. They are petty thieves, they break into cars, prostitute themselves.” He said he has complained for months, to minor effect, to police and city officials while taking part in local Crime Watch groups.
The neighborhood is bordered to the south by Sunrise Boulevard, to the north by the Middle River, to the west by Northeast Fourth Avenue and the east by Dixie Highway and the railroad tracks. Police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sousa said Sticht is well known in the department as a vocal opponent of crime. “Mr. Sticht has been told not to go after anyone, not to take matters into his own hands,” Sousa said. Sousa said Sticht was arrested in 1999 for an incident in which he was accused of chasing someone with a chain saw, but said further details of the case were not available.
The allegations against Sticht come as local human rights advocates remain on edge about crimes against the homeless. Three teens are set to stand trail for murder this summer, two years after police say they attacked three homeless men with baseball bats in Fort Lauderdale, killing one. “We really think this [situation with Sticht] is dangerous. We’re afraid someone is going to get killed,” said Doug Brawley, chief assistant public defender.
Tim Smith, president of Middle River Terrace association and a former Fort Lauderdale commissioner, sides with Sticht. He said parts of the area have become a “war zone” with 13 break-ins this year. He said the idea that Sticht physically threatened anyone is “the biggest bunch of bunk I’ve heard in my entire life.” “I’m mad as hell. These homeless advocates are dead wrong,” Smith said. “They are being used by criminals.”
In affidavits filed in court Monday, the five homeless men said Sticht patrolled the area at night with a spotlight, ran after them with a chain saw, threatened them with a knife, and fired a gun. Several of the men said they think Sticht made the wanted posters because, they said, he took their photographs and told one what he was going to do. Brown and a homeless advocate said they tried to complain about the posters to police, but waited for two hours at the station without seeing an officer. Brown then phoned in a complaint, and also turned to the public defender’s office
. State records show several of the homeless men have extensive criminal records, including arrests for cocaine possession, shoplifting, trespass, prostitution and lewd and lascivious conduct. Brown, for example, was found guilty in 2005 of burglary and grand theft, records show.
The records also show that Sticht was arrested in 1999 for trespassing with a dangerous weapon, a charge later reduced to misdemeanor trespassing. He pleaded no contest and a formal finding of guilt was withheld.
The only detail Sousa, the police spokesman, said he could add on Monday was that the incident had involved Sticht chasing someone with a chainsaw. Staff Writer Tonya Alanez and Staff Researcher Bill Lucey contributed to this report. Jamie Malernee can be reached at or 954-356-4849.