Cops Fight to Maintain Good Reputations as Florence Officials Try to Discredit Them

Walt Hunter and Jarris Varnrobinson
Walt Hunter and Jarris Varnrobinson

Walt Hunter and Jarris Varnrobinson, two officers fired by the Florence Police Department, continue to fight to clear their reputations.

Their latest battle involves an attempt to keep their names off what's known as the "Brady List."

The list isn't a good place for cops' names to wind up -- it's a way the courts keep track of law enforcement officers who have credibility issues as potential witnesses in criminal cases.

See also: -Florence Exposed: A three-part investigative series

Florence Police Department efforts to have the pair put on the Brady List come even after a hearing officer ordered the Town of Florence to reinstate Hunter. The hearing officer determined that the allegations leveled against Hunter by town officials didn't have merit or rise to level of firing offenses.

After Florence rehired Hunter, town officials demoted him at first, docked his pay, and stripped him of his badge and gun. He's since been restored to a position as a patrol officer.

New Times filed a request with the Pinal County Attorney's Office for the list of allegations submitted by Florence against the pair of police officers.

In a letter dated January 16, John R. Stevens, a law enforcement liaison for the office, informed Hunter that the county attorney received from the Florence Police Department a "professional standards report" for review. The letter also stated that "because findings have already been made by your agency, the Pinal County Attorney's Office will not reinvestigate the facts."

Hunter and Varnrobinson, who now works for the Kearney Police Department, tried unsuccessfully for a couple of weeks to contact Stevens.

Another letter from Stevens arrived February 4, telling Hunter that the information from the FPD had been reviewed and that a committee had determined his name "shall be included" among officers with integrity issues.

In that letter, Stevens gave the officers 20 days to file a request to be heard by the committee to prove they don't belong on the list.

Hunter and Varnrobinson met Stevens in person at the Pinal County Attorney's Office. They handed him the information, evidence, and testimony from legal proceedings that took place when they appealed their terminations.

It's likely that the allegations against Hunter and Varnrobinson are the same ones that were used to initially to fire them from the FPD. And that would be troublesome because, as we previously mentioned, these accusations largely were tossed out by a hearing officer as not having merit.

Even though Hunter and Varnrobinson faced virtually identical allegations when they were fired in December 2012, the hearing officer upheld Varnrobinson's termination.   It was an odd decision -- but one based on the hearing officer's taking serious offense to the fact that Varnrobinson recorded a conversation he'd had with a deputy county attorney over a years-old homicide case.

Tape-recording the conversation wasn't actually one of the allegations of wrongdoing against Varnrobinson by the town officials who fired him. But the hearing officer certainly turned it into one -- even after it was proved during the legal proceedings that it wasn't against FPD policy to tape-record individuals outside the police force. And it certainly wasn't a violation of any state law.

Both officers have turned over the County Attorney's Office documents and testimony during the hearing that disproved the allegations from Florence officials.

Among the alleged misdeeds were: excessive Internet use, reopening a homicide investigation to discredit a colleague, mishandling an old case both men already had been disciplined for, and making bogus claims regarding case files.

Hunter and Varnrobinson's troubles started after they accused Florence police Lieutenant Terry Tryon of giving away evidence in criminal investigation. (The Arizona Department of Safety investigated the allegations in 2012, but no criminal charges were filed because there was not a high likelihood of conviction.)

There was a huge rift between the two police officers and Tryon, who also was at odds with then-Police Chief Robert Ingulli. When Ingulli was fired, Florence officials hired Dan Hughes, a former Surprise police chief.

Hughes received a vote of no confidence from most of police officers under his command in Surprise before showing up in Florence.

With Ingulli, Tryon's longtime nemesis, out of the way, Tryon worked with Hughes to come up with a series of allegations to get rid of Hunter and Varnrobinson.

Police officials had to go back several years to gather up alleged problems concerning the pair.

Consider that one of the allegations had to do with their harsh interview of an alleged rape victim years prior to their termination -- under a different police chief -- and both already had received training to ensure that future interviewees would be treated with more sensitivity.

Although Tryon and Hughes wanted to use this incident as a basis for firing them, the allegation was rendered moot by the hearing officer.

It was also shown during the hearings that Hunter and Varnrobison had been ordered by their previous chief to reopen the homicide case involving a 9-year-old boy shot in the face. It was not, as Hughes claimed, something they took upon themselves to make the initial investigating detective look bad.

Ingulli testified that he ordered the pair to take another look at the case, and that allegation, too, fell flat.

Got a tip? Send it to: Monica Alonzo.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Monica Alonzo on Twitter at @MAD_Blogger.

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