FLORENCE, Ariz. (CN) - Two detectives in the Florence Police Department claim in court that they were fired after reporting that a lieutenant in the department returned evidence to suspects in criminal investigations.
Walt Hunter and Jarris Varnrobinson sued the Town of Florence, Police Chief Daniel Hughes, former Town Manager Himanshu Patel, Mayor Tom Rankin, Lt. Terry Tryon, and Town Manager Charles Montoya, in Federal Court.
Florence, pop. 27,000, is southeast of Phoenix.
Hunter and Varnrobinson, who say they are close friends, were detectives until Dec. 14, 2012, when they both were fired.
The two often shared a squad car and investigated cases together, and referred to themselves as "the biracial Siamese twins," the lawsuit says. Hunter is white, while Varnrobinson is black.
According to the complaint, Hunter and Varnrobinson reported Lt. Terry Tryon for "unauthorized return of evidence to witnesses or suspects in at least two FPD criminal cases in order to prevent prosecutions in those cases."
The plaintiffs claim that in 2007 Tryon "thwarted the FPD's investigation of the alleged rape of a sixteen-year-old Hispanic female by members of the Florence High School ('FHS') football team, including causing the destruction of video footage of the assault captured on cell phones, because Tryon's son and his son's friends were involved."
Tryon returned the confiscated cell phones, and when Hunter reconfiscated the phones after obtaining search warrants, the photos and videos had been erased, the complaint states. The case was not prosecuted by the Pinal County Attorney's Office.
In a 2008 case, Tryon returned a gun that may have been used in a home invasion case to the suspect because Tryon knew him, the lawsuit states.
Tryon, who was not working on the case, allegedly ordered the gun returned and "told Hunter that Varnrobinson could not 'go around taking guns from every white boy in town.'"
Hunter and Varnrobinson say they reported Tryon's actions between 2007 and 2012, but no actions were taken against him, and the two were fired in retaliation for whistle-blowing. Hunter was reinstated as a patrol officer in October 2013, but Varnrobinson was not, the complaint states.
The men claim that Police Chief Daniel Hughes "has a history of racially discriminatory conduct," including when he was chief of the Surprise Police Department in Surprise, Ariz. While there, "members of his department accused him of making improper comments about Hispanic people and of again abusing the disciplinary process, and he was forced to resign after 78 percent of his department gave him a vote of 'no confidence,'" the lawsuit states.
According to Hunter and Varnrobinson, "Hughes avoided looking at or speaking directly to Varnrobinson, though Hughes would regularly look at and speak directly to Caucasian individuals."
Hunter and Varnrobinson seek compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations and racial discrimination.
They are represented by Edmundo Robaina and Samuel Randall with Robaina and Kresin in Phoenix.