Ex-Florence Police Detectives, Whistleblowers Sue Town for Wrongful Termination
Walt "Hondo" Hunter and Jarris Varnrobinson
Former Florence police detectives Jarris Varnrobinson and Walt Hunter filed a federal lawsuit today in U.S. District Court against the Town of Florence, the town's mayor, its police chief, police lieutenant and past town managers over the pair's firing in 2012.
The lawsuit alleges that Florence officials, including Mayor Tom Rankin, Police Chief Dan Hughes, Lieutenant Terry Tryon, former Town Manager Himanshu Patel and current Town Manager Charles Montoya conspired to "cover up ... gross misconduct at the FPD by terminating Hunter's and Varnrobinson's employment and smearing their reputations, in violation of Hunter's and Varnrobinson's federally protected civil rights."
The lawsuit also alleges that Varnrobinson's civil rights were violated by the town and its officials because he was "subject to "disparate treatment on the basis of race."
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New Times published a special report, "Florence Exposed," that detailed the cases botched by Florence police officials, including the homicide of a 9-year-old boy and the alleged rape of a high school student in the desert during a party.
When the then-detectives exposed the alleged missteps to their superiors and town officials, they claim that town leaders engaged in a cover-up of the corruption and abuse of power.
And, then town officials retaliated against the law enforcement officers, ultimately firing them without ever notifying them they were under investigation or interviewing them to allow them to defend themselves.
The pair were officially fired after being accused of several improprieties, most of which were unfounded according to a personnel hearing officer who heard the officers' termination appeal.
The town rehired Hunter, the white cop, and, although the allegations against the two officers were virtually similar, they did not rehire Varnrobinson, an African American.
Indeed, the cast of characters that are targets of the former detectives' lawsuit have checkered pasts.
A statement by the law firm representing the former detectives notes that Mayor Tom Rankin, who was the police chief of the town until 1994, was booted out of office "after a news station broadcast allegations that he routinely referred to African-Americans as 'nigger' and 'boy.'"
Hughes left his last two law enforcement jobs after published allegations of racism, abuse of the disciplinary process, and other misconduct.
In 2002, Rennata Frazier, an African-American former law enforcement officer in Springfield, Illinois, where Hughes was Assistant Chief and Commander of Internal Affairs, filed suit against the City of Springfield based on Hughes' discriminatory conduct. The case received national press coverage, and the City settled for over $800,000, according to the law firm's statement.
Tryon received a written reprimand for returning evidence in both a home invasion case -- and was accused by the detectives of also giving away evidence in the teenage desert rape case.
Patel, a former town manager who signed off on the cops' termination, wrote in a memo to them that he was firing them after weighing the evidence against them and considering their responses to the allegations. However, during the quasi-court hearing at which Hunter and Varnrobinson appealed their firing, he admitted that he wasn't actually familiar with the case.
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