SPECIAL REPORT: FLORENCE EXPOSED | Part one of three
Richard McAnally was annoyed. His face, framed by a shock of gray hair and a pair of dark-rimmed glasses, puckered with disdain.
Injustice for All: How the Florence PD Compromised Public Safety
Florence had hired McAnally, paying him more than $7,000, to preside as a hearing officer in cases involving two detectives — Jarris Varnrobinson and Walt Hunter — appealing the town's December 14, 2012 decision to fire them.
McAnally, an 80-year-old attorney and judge pro tem, was supposed to act as an impartial finder of fact.
But the derision he directed toward Varnrobinson during this September 24 hearing in Florence's all-but-empty town council chambers illustrated his bias.
McAnally wanted to know why Varnrobinson secretly tape-recorded a prosecutor from the Pinal County Attorney's Office during his reinvestigation of a 2009 case involving the shooting death of 9-year-old Dustin Kemp.
The recording by Varnrobinson was not one of the major reasons given by Florence for the African-American detective's dismissal, but McAnally seemed personally offended by it.
Varnrobinson explained that he did it as part of his note-taking process during the course of a homicide reinvestigation.
In 2011, he and Hunter had been instructed by Robert Ingulli, Florence's police chief from 2000 to 2012, to look into the boy's death.
Veteran prosecutor Greg Hazard stated during a taped conversation that he believed the boy was shot with a .45-caliber Kimber semiautomatic pistol by his father, James Kemp, not by the victim's 21/2-year-old brother, as his father claimed.
Deputy County Attorney Hazard also told Varnrobinson that the case needed more investigation, that he had to yank it from the county grand jury because of unanswered questions.
The taped conclusion by the prosecutor stands in stark contrast to the how the shooting ultimately was resolved.
After New Times requested documents in the case, the County Attorney's Office quietly reopened it. On October 18, more than 41/2 years after the killing, James Kemp pleaded guilty to one count of domestic-violence "endangerment" in a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation.
Though detectives regularly record their conversations, and there was nothing illegal about the act, McAnally regarded it as a violation of a special bond between cop and prosecutor.
"I appreciate all your excuses you've given us," McAnally snapped. "But that's all I have to ask of you."
Varnrobinson's attorney, Neil Landeen, objected to McAnally's characterization of his client's testimony. Landeen then asked the former detective if he had anything else to say before he stepped down.
"Well," said Varnrobinson, "it appears that the hearing officer's already made a conclusion just based on his characterization of me as a witness."
McAnally was not amused.
"I resent your comments," he shot back. "I have not made a decision on this case. You won't see it until I write it and file it with the clerk of the court."
But, in the end, Varnrobinson correctly predicted the outcome. McAnally upheld the town's decision to fire the detective, in part because of the issue over the tape-recording of Hazard.
The former detective is appealing in Pinal County Superior Court.
After the hearings, Ingulli, now chief of the Kearny Police Department, signed a sworn affidavit stating that Varnrobinson's recording was within department policy at the time, which precluded only Florence Police Department officers from recording each other.
Landeen filed Ingulli's affidavit with his final appeal to McAnally. Yet, in defiance of the facts, McAnally insisted that Ingulli's policy forbade the recording of prosecutors by cops. He also backed the town on other points.
As for Hunter, though the town gave the same reasons for firing him as it did for Varnrobinson — issues dealing with computer use, reinvestigation of certain crimes, mishandling of an old case both men already had been disciplined for, and bogus claims dealing with case files — McAnally found this termination to be "without support."
Instead, McAnally suggested that the town punish Hunter using other means, such as reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay, retraining, and a probationary period for the 20-year law enforcement veteran. The town put all these ideas into play.
McAnally often was confused during the sessions and seemed hard of hearing. All the same, his brand of jurisprudence laid bare the festering favoritism, divisions, incompetence, and racism plaguing the Florence Police Department — which led to the banishment of the FPD's only black detective and the demotion of his white partner.
Because they were whistle-blowers and competent cops, Varnrobinson and Hunter endured retaliation, their careers suffering near-fatal blows.
But there are bigger problems with the FPD's dysfunction: Investigations of crimes — including alleged rape, robbery, and murder — have been severely compromised.
Chief Robert Ingulli doesn't mince words describing the two cops he hired in 2003, back when he was running the Florence Police Department.
"They're very good police officers," he tells New Times. "It's totally unjust what's happening. In fact, I think it's a witch hunt."
Indeed, before Ingulli was fired by the town in July 2012 and replaced by former Surprise Police Chief Dan Hughes, Varnrobinson and Hunter were in their prime professionally.
"They worked together very well," Ingulli says. "I can remember very serious cases, and they stood right up and solved them."
The partnership started while Varnrobinson still was on patrol. Hunter, the more experienced of the pair, made detective in 2005. But in a small police department of about 30 officers, including the chief, like minds find each other.
"We're very different in some ways," Hunter says. "We're very similar in others. We like investigations, we're very analytical, we like going out and solving crimes."
Varnrobinson remembered one case early on that Hunter was working, an armed robbery in which the perpetrator, despite wearing long sleeves, inadvertently had revealed the tattoos on his arms
Still a patrol officer, Varnrobinson chatted up a pedestrian. The guy recently had been released from one of the many detention facilities in Florence, a prison town where the inmate population outnumbers that of non-incarcerated residents more than two to one.
Varnrobinson, a tattoo artist on the side, took note of the ink on the man's arms and jotted down a description. Later, while watching security-camera video of the robbery, Varnrobinson recognized the tattoos on the arms of Hunter's suspect. As a result, the two officers were able to identify, locate, and arrest the perpetrator.
It was the first of a string of successes. Varnrobinson became a detective in 2008, and the two men teamed up, working hundreds of cases together and racking up awards in the process.
Varnrobinson earned letters of commendation from the department in 2008 and 2012 and was the FPD's Officer of the Year in 2010. Hunter was Officer of the Year in 2004 and was awarded Employee of the Month by the Pinal County Attorney's Office in August 2008.
In their reviews, the detectives regularly met or exceeded the expectations of their superiors.
Though both men are stellar cops, they indeed are vastly different.
Hunter, a horse-training cowboy from New Mexico, sports a thick, black mustache and a large silver belt buckle fit for a lawman in a dusty Old West town. He wears black boots and a matching cowboy hat, chews tobacco, and talks with a twang.
Varnrobinson hails from California, used to work in Hollywood as a movie and TV prop master, and has tattoos running down his arms and up his neck. Often clad in black and wearing a bulging silver skull ring and gauged plugs in his ears, the Harley rider resembles a death-metal musician.
The incongruous pair, both married, stand at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3 — Varnrobinson the taller one. Fit for a reality show, they talk over each other, argue, and exchange barbs. Their baritone voices and intimidating demeanors aside, they boast solid academic achievements.
Both have undergraduate and master's degrees, earned while they built their law enforcement résumés. Varnrobinson is pursuing a doctorate in psychology.
Each came to Florence with a lengthy background in law enforcement.
Hunter began as a deputy with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, where his father had served. From there, he did stints at the Ak-Chin Police Department, as well as the Clifton PD, where he worked on the Greenlee County Drug Task Force, winning an award for narcotics interdiction.
Varnrobinson started as an officer with the Arizona Department of Corrections, later joining the National Guard and attending U.S. Army Military Police School at Fort McClellan, Alabama. After that, he spent four years with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Police Department and a year as a military police officer in Monterey, California.
The two cops flourished under the command of Ingulli, another educated policeman who had retired from the New York Police Department as a lieutenant after more than 20 years on the force.
Ingulli headed west after retirement, landing first at the Tucson Police Department, where he served four years as a detective. He then was chief of the Kearny PD for one year beginning in 1999. He was hired as Florence chief in 2000, where he remained for 12 years. He since has returned to head Kearny's department.
Town officials and the FPD's current police chief, Dan Hughes, often point with pride to Florence as the only Arizona municipality named in 2013 to NeighborhoodScout.com's annual list of the 100 Safest Cities in the United States, coming in 17th.
What they fail to mention is that the website based its rankings on the most recent FBI data available at the time: the year totals from 2011, when Ingulli was in charge.
"That didn't happen by magic," Varnrobinson says. "That was because Chief Bob, the patrol staff, and the investigations division, all worked together."
But it is true that Florence remains a low-crime zone, mainly because it is awash in law enforcement officers — its main industry being incarceration.
The town is the site of 10 correctional facilities, including prisons run by, and sometimes for, the Arizona Department of Corrections, jails controlled by the county Sheriff's Office, facilities operated by such private prison companies as Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group, and a detention facility run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Linger at one of Florence's Circle Ks or at its lone McDonald's, and you see any number of cops from different agencies: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ICE, the Sheriff's Office, and the FPD.
Add the correctional officers and out-of-town cops who visit the prisons or the superior court, and it's no wonder that children often leave their bicycles unlocked and unattended on Florence streets.
In this environment, solving crime should come easy.
But it too often doesn't at the FPD, where officers past and present say a "good ol' boy network" can impede righteous cops from doing their jobs.
"There's an old-world way of doing things, and there's a new-world way of doing things," Ingulli says. "I always tried to keep up to date [concerning professional law enforcement practices]."
Ingulli says he butted heads with two men wedded to the old order: FPD Lieutenant Terry Tryon and Tryon's former boss and onetime police chief, current Florence Mayor Tom Rankin.
Rankin was chief from 1980 to 1994. Born and raised in Florence, the wiry 67-year-old is a controversial figure, with an infamous temper and a solid belief that the "ol' boy network" is a positive thing.
"Why not?" Rankin insists when New Times asks about Florence's particular way of doing things under his regimes as police chief and mayor. "I've got no problem with it . . . If you're a good ol' boy, you're gonna take care of your community."
Over the years, Rankin made no secret of his dislike of Robert Ingulli and the way he ran the FPD.
In fact, Ingulli recalls several run-ins with Rankin, who was on the town council from 1996 to 2004, served as mayor from 2004 to 2008, and was elected mayor again in 2012.
"He has a hot temper and history of threatening people," Ingulli says of Rankin.
On one occasion, Ingulli says, Rankin harangued him during a visit to Florence by Governor Jan Brewer, telling the then-chief, "You're the worst thing that's ever happened to this town."
Indeed, Rankin promised to run him out of town, Ingulli says.
"He threatened he would fire me as soon he was re-elected mayor," Ingulli says. "And I'll be darned if he didn't."
For his part, Rankin claims he doesn't interfere with the police department, but he admits that he and his wife, Donna, keep a police scanner in their bedroom. He says she listens to it and keeps informed on what's going on in town.
There are numerous accounts by former department members of Mayor Rankin's showing up at police calls and angrily confronting the cop on the scene, especially when it involved somebody connected to Rankin.
Former Florence chief Patrick Cote recalls in his book, Police Chief Managing Success, that during his department leadership from 1995 to 1997, Rankin was arrested "several" times for such breaches of the peace.
Rankin had been chief for 14 years when he wound up on an Inside Edition broadcast following 1994 allegations of racism toward African-Americans and Mexicans in town.
That same year, the town council backed a decision by the town manager at the time to dismiss Rankin.
But it wasn't over. A successful recall drive in 1995 against town council members who supported his termination resulted in the town manager's ouster. In 1996, Rankin ran and won a seat on the council.
Ask Rankin why he got into politics, and he's direct and unapologetic: "To get rid of the people who fired me."
Much of what Patrick Cote writes in his book about Rankin could apply to Robert Ingulli's encounters with the cop turned councilman turned mayor in the 2000s.
Cote describes Rankin as "a thorn in my side" who perceived the town's law enforcement agency as "his police department."
Rankin saw Cote as "an obstacle in his way," the former chief writes.
Rankin, Cote believes, engineered his firing by the town manager and council when his two-year contract was up.
Law enforcement for Rankin was something "out of the Old West," Cote says, and Rankin was hostile to change.
"There was no such thing as contemporary law enforcement," Cote writes. "There was a different brand of justice; it all depended on who you were and whom you knew."
Terry Tryon is a holdover from the Rankin years. Tryon left briefly to work for the Pinal County Sheriff's Office but returned to the town's police force in 1997.
According to his FPD personnel file, Tryon, who lists having a GED, has risen from dispatcher to patrolman to sergeant to lieutenant over 16 years. He has family ties in the town.
Tryon's wife, Sylvia, owns a Florence beauty salon. Her father was a member of the town school board, and her brother is assistant superintendent of the Florence Unified School District and former principal of the high school.
Tryon and Ingulli never worked well together, and their relationship soured increasingly over the years. A division developed between those in the department who backed the chief and those who stuck with Tryon.
"At one point, it got really bad," Ingulli testified during the Hunter hearing. "Anyone who supported me had problems with Lieutenant Tryon."
Tryon's employee reviews, performed by Ingulli, got steadily worse, with Tryon often refusing to sign them or to "engage in any meaningful discussion" with his chief.
Ingulli's complaints about his second-in-command ran the gamut: missing meetings, keeping inadequate records, unapproved moonlighting, evaluating subordinates without Ingulli's review, and a particularly bizarre incident: awarding lifesaving medals to other officers in the FPD parking lot without Ingulli's knowledge.
Ingulli testified that he could not remedy the situation with Tryon because he had been stripped of his authority to discipline or terminate officers about five years after he was hired. He could only reprimand Tryon in person or in writing and send recommendations for discipline to the town manager.
As buffoonish as some of Tryon's high-jinks might sound, there were weightier allegations against him, including returning evidence to witnesses and suspects in two major investigations. These involved a 2008 home invasion and an alleged sexual assault in 2007.
Jarris Varnrobinson and Walt Hunter each complained to the town on separate occasions about the incidents — effectively blowing the whistle on Tryon.
In the home-invasion case, investigated by Varnrobinson, residents of a Florence house reported that two white men wearing ski masks kicked in a side door, one armed with a handgun and the other with a rifle.
After entering, the men ordered a male resident to kneel at gunpoint, demanding money from him. Another resident entered the room before fleeing, which led to the suspects also fleeing — but not before firing off a round.
The most significant piece of evidence recovered was a single .223-caliber shell casing on the living room floor.
Two weeks later, Varnrobinson and another officer responded to a call involving a suicidal woman whose boyfriend kept a number of firearms at home. The cops agreed to take custody of the weapons and hold them for safekeeping.
Among the guns under the woman's bed was an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Her home was near the scene of the recent home invasion, and her boyfriend was white. Varnrobinson believed he had probable cause to hold the weapon and obtain a search warrant to test it. He and Hunter wanted to determine whether the shell casing found at the scene of the home invasion had come from the weapon.
The weapon's owner was not happy about the cops' plans and called Tryon, whom he knew, to complain. Tryon ordered the AR-15 released before Varnrobinson applied for the search warrant.
Hunter tells New Times that when he objected, Tryon stated, "Varn can't go around taking guns from every white boy in town."
This pattern was similar to what transpired in 2007 when Tryon intervened in Hunter's investigation of an alleged rape at a late-night desert party attended by about 40 teens. The victim was a 16-year-old Florence High cheerleader, and the alleged assailant was a member the high school football team.
The girl, five feet tall and 102 pounds, had become highly inebriated after drinking whiskey and smoking marijuana. Witnesses described her as unable to walk or talk, yet she ended up nude in the cab of a truck having sex with at least one member of the team.
Other teens watched and some took photos, audio, and video of the intercourse. Afterward, friends of the girl, including Tryon's son — also on the football team — delivered her to FPD headquarters.
From there, she was taken to a hospital, where her blood-alcohol level was measured at .288. She had blacked out and had no memory of a sexual assault.
Though two cell phones had been confiscated by the responding detective, a crime technician noted in his supplementary report that he had to work quickly to download images on the phones because Tryon wanted them returned to their owners.
When the case was assigned to Hunter, he tried to retrieve the cell phones from the police department's evidence room. He planned to get a warrant so that anything downloaded from the devices could be used as evidence. But Hunter discovered that the phones already had been returned to their owners.
Later, Tryon accompanied Hunter to the high school to meet with a football player who had taken video with his phone. The student let Hunter and Tryon see the video. Hunter wanted to keep the phone and obtain a search warrant to download the video properly.
According to Hunter, before he could confiscate the phone, Tryon left the room to call a Pinal County prosecutor for advice on how to handle the situation.
A police report of the incident said Tryon told Hunter that then-county prosecutor Jeff Sandler advised him that police could download the video, with the permission of the student, and return the cell phone to its owner. Hunter followed these instructions.
During an investigation of the incident in 2012 by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Sandler remembered speaking with Tryon at the time about cell phones but could not recall details.
However, DPS investigator Ron Baroldy wrote in his report: "Sandler said he would not have told Tryon it was OK to download" the video and then give back the cell phone.
In an attempt to salvage the investigation, Hunter later obtained warrants to legally retrieve the phones and their contents, but by then usable evidence no longer existed.
Regarding the photos and videos downloaded without warrants, none of it could be used as evidence, according to Hunter. In the police report of the alleged rape, the video is described as grainy and dark.
Ultimately, then-County Attorney Jim Walsh declined to pursue charges. Hunter blames Tryon for the botched investigation.
"I don't care if you are my friend or my enemy," Hunter tells New Times. "I will not look the other way when someone is being victimized."
Walt Hunter filed a complaint against Terry Tryon in 2010 that covered several issues, including the returning of the cell phones and the AR-15 to their owners. Hunter also accused Tryon of creating a hostile work environment.
This resulted in a letter of reprimand to Tryon from former Town Manager Himanshu Patel that admonished the lieutenant for a "derogatory comment" made about Hunter on the FPD's public-safety database, where it could be viewed by other officers.
Patel instructed Tryon that "sarcasm can be destructive" and noted that Tryon had engaged in "compromised communications" with Ingulli and others.
As for the AR-15, Patel informed Tryon: "Allegations of you releasing evidence of a home [invasion] outside of your authority have been substantiated by documentation."
The return of the cell phones in the rape case, however, went unmentioned.
Unaware of Patel's reprimand of Tryon and fed up with Tryon's actions, Jarris Varnrobinson wrote a scathing memo to Chief Ingulli, Patel, and the town's human resources director in January 2012.
He documented bad behavior by Tryon, saying he had witnessed the lieutenant "openly argue" with Ingulli and had observed him "create a divide amongst the officers by establishing loyalty to him and not to the town or the Chief of Police."
Varnrobinson said he feared retaliation by Tryon, observing how Tryon had been able to avoid demotion to sergeant. He wrote that supervisors were telling him that Tryon was attempting to get him fired.
But Varnrobinson's recounting of Tryon's return of evidence was the most serious allegation.
"Just so you understand," Varnrobinson wrote in his memo, "hampering an investigation and tampering with evidence is a felony."
(Note: The city of Florence refused repeated requests by New Times for formal interviews with Tryon, Hughes, and other members of the police department. Patel, now Pinal County's interim assistant manager, didn't respond to New Times' calls for comment.)
The FPD could not investigate Varnrobinson's complaint because of the obvious conflict. So the town asked the Department of Public Safety to handle the probe. This resulted in DPS Officer Ron Baroldy's investigation of Tryon for allegedly tampering with evidence, a class-six felony.
Regarding the AR-15, Tryon admitted to Baroldy that he knew the man who owned it and ordered the rifle to be returned to him. He disagreed that Varnrobinson had the right to retain the rifle, but he claimed he was not aware that Varnrobinson had placed an evidence hold on the gun. Had he known, he said, he would not have given it back.
As for the case involving the football team, Tryon continued to maintain that a county prosecutor told him the cell phones could be returned to their owners.
The facts that his son and his son's friends were involved and that Tryon's brother-in-law was the high school's principal at the time were not discussed in the DPS report.
Baroldy sent his investigation, mostly a he said/he said recounting of the allegations, to the County Attorney's Office, which declined to charge Tryon in September 2012 because of "no reasonable likelihood of conviction."
Rankin was re-elected mayor in May 2012. In mid-July last year, Town Manager Patel terminated Chief Ingulli.
Asked why Ingulli was fired, assistant town manager Jess Knudson points to the recommendations of a report on the town's police operations performed by the International City/Council Management Association.
The report dealt with everything from the department's response to false alarms to its shift schedule and manpower. Interestingly, it also criticized Florence's current system of relying on town officials for police discipline, noting that it "undermines the department's over all chain of command."
Ingulli tells New Times that he had sought the independent audit for a long time, cooperated with it, and welcomed its recommendations.
Knudson suggests that Ingulli did not implement the ICMA's suggestions fast enough for Town Manager Patel.
As interim police chief, the town hired Daniel Hughes, an unlikely candidate since he was the disgraced former chief of the Surprise Police Department.
In 2010, Hughes was forced to resign as Surprise chief after a vote of no-confidence by 78 percent of the agency's officers. Allegations against him ranged from making improper comments about Hispanics to abusing the disciplinary process to trying to fix a traffic citation for a city councilman.
Hughes' time as an assistant chief at the Springfield (Illinois) Police Department perhaps had been more contentious.
According to reports in the Illinois Times, an alternative weekly in Springfield, and the daily Springfield State Journal-Register, Hughes was accused of filing a misleading internal affairs complaint against Renatta Frazier, an African-American policewoman, suggesting that she failed to prevent the rape of a colleague's daughter by two black men.
Hughes' complaint became a major scandal, and he left Springfield in 2002 after landing the job in Surprise.
Frazier sued Springfield, and the city settled the case for $829,000.
Though Hughes was hired by Florence's town manager, Mayor Rankin says he approved of the choice.
"I liked what I saw," Rankin says, adding, "I'm not worried about his history. I have a history."
Hughes had a simple excuse for his checkered past when the subject came up during a brief encounter with New Times at Florence's Town Hall:
"Sometimes bad things happen to good people."
Not long after Hughes took over, he made bad things happen to Hunter and Varnrobinson.
Hunter was fond of referring to himself and Varnrobinson as "biracial Siamese twins," but after Hughes became chief, their supervisors — including Tryon — informed them that they could not work cases together anymore. They even were ordered not to ride together in FPD vehicles.
The "twins" were separated.
At the hearings, Hunter noted other signs that pointed to a prejudiced attitude toward Varnrobinson, observing that Hughes avoided talking to — or even looking at — Varnrobinson.
"I told Varn I thought [Hughes] was a racist," Hunter testified during the hearings, an opinion he felt the current chief's past validated.
Witness testimony from the detectives' hearings revealed that Tryon, once Hughes was chief, wasted no time building a case to fire Varnrobinson and Hunter.
Hughes admitted under oath that he never notified the detectives that they were under investigation. Nor, he testified, did he speak to the two men about the allegations against them or make a phone call to their former boss, Ingulli.
None of this bothers Mayor Rankin.
"Those guys should've been fired a long time ago," Rankin says.
Although Hughes was well aware of the feud between the detectives and Tryon, he did not question information that Tryon turned over to him regarding their professional behavior — which Hughes used when he sought to get them fired.
"Ingulli's a lying sack of shit," New Times hears Dan Hughes mutter to a town employee at the end of Jarris Varnrobinson's appeal.
The current chief's anger is understandable, if misdirected. Testimony from Ingulli helped expose how Hughes had bungled the investigation of the two detectives.
Two months after Hughes arrived in Florence, town records show, Tryon asked the detectives' sergeant to have both compile detailed descriptions of cases they had worked over the past year. The descriptions were to include the status of the cases, whether suspects were charged, and how many resulted in prison time.
"If you are asked why you need this information, you will only inform them you have requested it and it needs to be supplied for the evaluation," Tryon wrote in a September 2012 memo to Sergeant Scott Morris.
The detectives provided the information to their sergeant, who turned it over to Tryon. The lieutenant then selected certain cases that, he said, were missing written descriptions or follow-up reports or were not properly entered into a police database.
On October 1, 2012, Tryon sent a memo to Hughes, documenting what he believed was the detectives' incomplete work.
The problem was, he omitted cases with successful prosecutions, according to personnel records.
By November 8, Hughes sent his recommendation to fire Varnrobinson and Walt Hunter to the town manager.
If there were problems with case files, it is unclear why no action was taken against Morris, given that he was Varnrobinson and Hunter's direct supervisor and in charge of reviewing and signing off on their reports.
Tryon reached into the past to find another rationale for firing the detectives, a 2010 incident involving a 17-year-old girl who reported that her stepfather had raped her.
Hunter was the lead investigator in the case. He wanted the Pinal County's Family Advocacy Center to conduct a forensic interview with the girl. Hunter tried contacting someone at the center but was not immediately successful.
An FPD sergeant instructed the detective to do the interview himself at the police station and informed Hunter that the girl recently had asked what the consequences were for lying.
Armed with this information, Hunter and Varnrobinson interrogated the girl.
Complaints about the questioning — that the detectives treated her like a suspect rather than a victim — prompted Ingulli to convene a meeting with advocacy center officials, members of the County Attorney's Office, and Varnrobinson and Hunter to review their interviewing techniques.
The detectives acknowledged mistakes, and the chief settled the matter by assigning them to undergo specialized training.
All parties considered the matter closed. However, two years later, it was one of the town's stated reasons for their dismissals.
On this point, hearing officer McAnally sided with Varnrobinson and Hunter, concluding that the retraining of the detectives ended the matter.
He wrote in his judgment that Hughes' attempt "to re-create a disciplinary issue" out of an old error was "invalid." He stated that using the incident as a rationale for the men's termination was "double jeopardy."
Another cited reason for the dismissals was Jarris Varnrobinson and Walt Hunter's reinvestigation of the 2009 shooting death of 9-year-old Dustin Kemp, originally assigned to Detective Renee Klix.
Chief Hughes said "it would appear that [they] took it upon themselves to re-investigate this case in an effort to discredit fellow employees Tryon and Klix," town records show.
Had he asked either Hunter or Varnrobinson, Hughes would have discovered that they were assigned the case by Robert Ingulli, and only after a Florence police evidence technician told the then-chief that Klix had failed to properly document the crime scene.
During the September hearings, Hughes testified that Klix did a good job on the Kemp case. But according to a prosecutor from the County Attorney's Office and an FPD evidence technician, the case was poorly handled.
A deputy county attorney cited Klix's shoddy investigation — including many unanswered questions — as the reason his office had pulled the case from grand jury consideration.
During the detectives' hearings, Tom Clifford, who oversees the FPD's evidence room, said he tried to use the case as a learning opportunity for an intern working with him.
But, he said, it was missing so many elements — including basic measurements — that he was unable to reconstruct the crime scene.
A spokesman for the County Attorney's Office informs New Times that records show that the office requested further investigation in the case but that nothing else was done by the FPD.
There are many unanswered questions in the tragic shooting that snuffed out the life of a young boy who allegedly was the victim of child abuse.
The boy's father, James Kemp, blamed Dustin's killing on the boy's 21/2-year-old developmentally delayed brother, Robert.
Robert somehow had removed his father's .45 semiautomatic pistol from its hiding place in a difficult-to-open nightstand drawer and fatally shot his brother in the face, according to Kemp.
It was one of many unsecured weapons in the home.
Kemp's behavior on the day of the shooting was suspicious.
He told 911 dispatchers that his younger son shot his older brother, whom he described generically as the "gunshot victim."
He then coolly described how the boy's eye was hanging from its socket.
Before Dustin's body was removed from the home, Kemp retrieved a Gerber Life Insurance policy for his dead child from his home office. When the subject of all his unsecured weapons came up, the ex-Marine proudly invoked his Second Amendment rights.
Despite all this, other than cursory questioning at the scene, Klix never formally interviewed Kemp.
He never was asked to explain why investigators found gunshot residue on his hands.
Nor was he questioned about allegations of his abusive behavior toward Dustin when the family lived in Yakima, Washington.
Prosecutor Greg Hazard testified during Hunter's hearing that it was "possible" the father had more to do with the death of his son but that the evidence wasn't there.
When talking to Varnrobinson in 2012, he was far more emphatic.
"I think the father killed his son. I really do," Hazard is heard telling Varnrobinson in the 2012 conversation the detective recorded.
In the exchange, Hazard also can be heard expressing frustration with the lack of investigation in the case.
After years on the shelf, the Kemp case was revived by the County Attorney's Office in August — about two months after New Times requested all files associated with it. Kemp originally was charged with class-four child abuse, but that was bargained down to class-six endangerment by the time he was sentenced to probation last month.
The tape recorder that Varnrobinson used during his discussion with Hazard had been given to him by Ingulli, who wrote in a sworn statement to hearing officer McAnally that he had supplied such machines to all his detectives for their notes and files.
"Thus I had no problems with any detectives recording conversations in the course of their investigations," Ingulli stated.
Still, as mentioned, McAnally found the recording of Hazard grounds for Varnrobinson's dismissal.
Another charge McAnally upheld against both men was "excessive non-work-related use of [the] Internet."
SPECIAL REPORT: FLORENCE EXPOSED | Part one of three
However, Chief Hughes did not scrutinize the entire department's Internet usage. When Hunter's attorney requested a record of Renee Klix's online activity, it was similar to Hunter's.
Varnrobinson was accused of working on his tattoo/clothing business website VonZombie.com while on duty. But an Internet archive shows that the page was not active until January 2013, after Varnrobinson was fired.
Still, inexplicably, McAnally — whom Florence officials say had overseen termination appeals for them at least twice before (each time finding in favor of the town) — declared Varnrobinson's Internet usage grounds for dismissal.
This while finding that Hunter's Internet usage did not.
Now, Hunter is back, working for Tryon and Hughes, relieved of his weapon, and assigned to code enforcement — with a 5 percent pay cut.
Meanwhile, Varnrobinson's firing has drawn scrutiny from the Reverend Oscar Tillman, president of the Maricopa County NAACP.
Tillman says he was approached by Varnrobinson shortly after he and Hunter were fired. Tillman traveled to Florence to investigate matters for himself, but no one from the town would meet with him at first.
Finally, Tillman spoke with Vallarie Woolridge, the only black member of the Florence Town Council.
Tillman says Woolridge shrugged off the possibility of discrimination, because the town "fired the white cop, too."
Contacted by New Times, Woolridge denied making this statement to Tillman and then declined further comment.
Familiar with the race-relations history of Mayor Rankin and Chief Hughes, Tillman hardly was surprised by the outcome of the hearings.
"In the end, I knew it was going to be . . . the white guy getting his job back," Tillman says, "because of the caliber of people [in power]."
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Tillman says the NAACP will assist Varnrobinson in future legal action.
"We're going to stand right by . . . Varnrobinson," he promises, "to ensure that justice is done in this matter — and to send a message to those who tried to shut him up."
Next: How the Florence Police Department botched an investigation into the shooting death of a 9-year-old boy and fumbled allegations of sexual assault involving the town's high school football team.