Dedorius Latrell Varnes, a 28-year-old Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy on the job two and a half years, was arrested Friday on a felony charge of aggravated stalking after an investigation revealed he’d allegedly made more than 50 intimidating and racist phone calls to a 67-year-old man, threatening to rob him and beat him up.
The recipient of Varnes’s calls, Thomas Pappas, had been the alleged victim of a battery by a neighbor, Patell Troutman, 42, and had pursued charges against Troutman, who’d sought to have the charges dropped. The subsequent investigation revealed that Varnes made the alleged calls to Pappas, apparently because he thought it was funny.
Varnes had been among the many deputies who’d responded to Pappas’s house during the course of the investigation into the battery incident, but not the initial night. Yet bizarrely, investigators never established a link between Varnes and Troutman.
“I was shocked, disappointed and angry to find out that an employee of this agency was behind these atrocious phone calls,” Sheriff Rick Staly was quoted as saying in a release issued late Friday night. “He took an oath and is supposed to serve and protect this community and instead he actively participated in threatening and tormenting a resident. He abused his status as a law enforcement officer and we will do everything we can to have the state revoke his license so he can never work in law enforcement again. He has let down this community; he has embarrassed this agency and tarnished his badge and dishonored law enforcement officers everywhere. No one is above the law and that is why he is in jail where he belongs.”
Staly has apologized to Pappas. Pappas and the sheriff plan to meet next week. Varnes is being held at the Flagler County jail without bond. He’s been suspended without pay pending further investigation. His firing is “pending,” according to the sheriff’s office.
The original incident took place on Feb. 26, involving Pappas, Raymond Muller, 74, and Troutman. According to a sheriff’s arrest report, Pappas was in his garage with Muller, watching television and having a beer, when Troutman walked up. Pappas invited him in. Troutman and Pappas have known each other since 2014 and hung out regularly (according to Troutman). Pappas had recently loaned him $340 to buy baby formula and other children’s items. At some point a discussion about racism and the military started, then an argument broke out between Troutman and Muller.
According to Pappas, he tried to defuse the argument, though a neighbor who witnessed the incident reported to police that Pappas called Patel a “F’n N’er,” according to the arrest report. Troutman described it differently. He said he and Muller wanted to see if they could push Pappas’s buttons, that Pappas got upset and told Troutman to leave.
Muller and Troutman left, but soon after Troutman returned and “attempted to start a physical altercation” with Pappas, at one point allegedly shoving him. In Troutman’s version, he pushed Pappas to get away from him, in self-defense, and had returned to Pappas’s house only to apologize, by which time Pappas had already called 911.
After calling law enforcement, Pappas reported to a deputy that he felt like he’d been “swung around like a ragdoll.” Pappas’s outside video footage, while not pointing at the scene of the incident, showed “shadows” indicating one individual was pushing another before Troutman appears in the frame bear-hugging Pappas before Pappas breaks free of him. Pappas then gets hold of “what appears to be a sledge hammer” from his garage, and Troutman leaves. Pappas described Troutman as three times bigger than him. The witness who spoke to police described Pappas as the aggressor at one point in the argument.
Even as sheriff’s units were at the scene and after they left, Pappas reported receiving phone calls from a restricted number he thought was Troutman’s–though he’d never given him his phone number–and that Troutman was asking him not to pursue charges. Pappas wanted to pursue charges, and did.
Troutman was charged (but not arrested) on March 15 with battery on a person 65 or older, a third-degree felony. The charge was forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office. The State Attorney announced on June 8 it would not pursue the charge.
On June 24, Flagler County Sheriff’s detective Gabe Fuentes began an investigation into allegedly harassing calls Pappas had been receiving on his cell phone from the restricted number. Fuentes traced 53 calls between March 19 and May 5 to what turned out to be Varnes’s phone, and that according to Pappas’s notes, Pappas was “being watched and being threatened.” He feared for his life, worried that people were being sent over to beat him up, was subjected to racial slurs, and was told repeatedly that he was being watched and would be robbed. “I’ll rob you again like before and will beat you up again. You’ll see,” was one of the alleged threats, which ended with an obscenity. “Fuck you white motherfucker,” he’d allegedly told him in another call. (Varnes is black. Pappas is white.)
Fuentes secured Varnes’s AT&T records by subpoena. The records show that Varnes repeatedly used the *67 function to hide the calls’ point of origin. Fuentes found out that Troutman had, in fact, called Pappas the night of the incident to ask him to drop the charges, and would subsequently call him in early March, for a total of 15 calls. Those calls had not been aggressive. But after mid-March the calls became so.
When confronted with the allegations, Varnes, according to his arrest report, told another deputy that he had messed up, “that he did not think he was going to get in trouble and thought it was funny.”
A forensic analysis of Varnes’s phone revealed 40 restricted calls to Pappas–just 40, because the call log was writing over itself, according to the investigation.
“The fact that he could look this victim in the eye and listened to just how upset these phone calls where making him and then continued to call him again and again is an indicator that he has a serious problem,” Staly said of Varnes. “In reviewing his personnel file and talking to his supervisors and those on his interview board and reviewing his psychological background there were no indicators that he would do anything like this. In my 45-years in law enforcement, this is the most bizarre behavior I have ever seen by a law enforcement officer. I want to assure the community that his behavior is not a reflection of the many men and women that serve our community in a professional manner every day.”
There is no indication on the sheriff’s jail website of Varnes’s booking record.