2 Florence police officers investigated over rape case

FLORENCE, AZ - An Arizona rape trial is underway, but the case is less about the suspect and his accuser and more about the credibility of the officers who conducted the investigation.

The Pinal County Attorney's Office says too many mistakes were made that could impact the case.

Florence police started their investigation into the rape case of a 17-year-old. The teen claimed she was raped by her stepfather in 2010.

In the audio recordings of the initial interview obtained by ABC15, you can listen to former investigators Walt Hunter and Jarris Varnrobinson question the victim for hours.

"He tells me, pull down your pants," the 17-year-old says in the recording.

The teen spends a majority of the interview discussing what position she was in when she was raped.

According the Pinal County's Attorney's Office, the questions were leading and biased.

"I didn't know what would happen if I didn't do it,” the teen is heard saying.

But Hunter and Varnrobinson didn't believe her, repeatedly asking the same questions trying to see if her story would change.

“All I know is that I'm telling the truth,” the girl says.

The recorded interview is one of 25 mistakes the Pinal County Attorney's Office says investigators Varnrobinson and Hunter made.

The county attorney says the two failed to gather evidence and asked biased questions, doubting the victim's story.

"What you are describing is anatomically impossible to do," Hunter is heard saying in the recording.

"This wasn't an interview, it was an interrogation," said Robert Bell, a former police officer and Childhelp employee.

Bell says investigators were trying to get the victim to change her story.

According to the Florence Police Department, it is required to take sexual assault victims who are minors to the child advocacy center and conduct interviews in a comfortable room.

There should only be one investigator in the room, while another is watching a video monitor.

During a proper forensic interview, questions should be open ended, unbiased and should only last 45 minutes, according to authorities.

According to the Florence Police Department, Hunter and Varnrobinson brought the teen down to the police station to conduct the interview.

The suspect was sitting in the other room.

The audio recording reveals Hunter and Varnrobinson were both friendly when they started to interview the suspect, sharing details about the victim's story, giving him a possible alibi by telling him about DNA evidence found on the couch.

"Do you and your wife have sex on the couch," asks Varnrobinson.

“Yes," the suspect replies.

"We are kind of giving you a lead," says Varnrobinson.

"A life line," says Hunter.

Bell said it’s disheartening. But what shocked him was what he heard next.

Audio recording: "We feel that it was egged on by M…. You are shaking your head. It's not sound police work."

The mistakes didn't stop at this one case.

The county attorney's office says it had to drop five cases, blaming mistakes by both Hunter and Varnrobinson.

I spoke to attorneys representing both investigators and while they admit to mistakes in this interview, they tell me their clients were targeted because they were whistle blowers trying to uncover corruption within the police department.

They declined an on camera interview pending ongoing litigation with Florence police.

The two investigators have just been put on what's known as the Brady List which flags officers whose credibility has come into question.

However the independent board that reviews claims against police officers in Arizona looked into this case and decided not to take action against the officers.

We'll stay on top of this trial and let you know what happens.

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