Dedorius Latrell Varnes is the 28-year-old former Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy who was arrested in July, when he was still in uniform, on a felony charge of aggravated stalking in what was one of the bizarre cases sheriff’s detectives had handled: he’d allegedly made 53 bullying, threatening and racist phone calls to a 67-year-old man for no other apparent motive than because he thought it was funny. Varnes’s only previous interaction with the man had been incidental. He’d been very partially involved in the investigation of the man’s complaint in an unrelated incident involving the man’s neighbor.
Sheriff Rick Staly called Varnes’s phone calls “atrocious” and suspended him without pay, pending a criminal and internal investigation of the case. Both investigations are ongoing.
Varnes had been with the sheriff’s office two and a half years when he was charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony, and making harassing phone calls, a misdemeanor. He resigned on Aug. 4.
Thursday, he was arrested on an identical felony charge stemming from an equally bizarre case when he was still a deputy.
On Nov. 27, someone struck the mailbox at a home on Point Pleasant Drive off Belle Terre Parkway in Palm Coast. The homeowner called police. Varnes responded, but told the homeowner it was a civil matter–meaning that she should resolve it on her own. He did not turn on his body camera. The woman’s husband lodged a complaint with the sheriff’s office through the agency’s website, saying he didn’t feel Varnes handled the call properly. When Varnes’s supervisor, Greg Tietje, was made aware, he asked Varnes to return to the house and rectify the issue.
Varnes again didn’t activate his body cam, but according to the investigation, Varnes upbraided the homeowner for complaining. (The investigation blanks out the alleged victim’s name in compliance with Marcy’s Law. For the sake of clarity, he will be referred to as “John,” which is not his actual name.) John hung up on him.
Things then started getting strange for John. He started getting lurid texts from an unknown number. The texter called John names, claimed he’d had sex with John’s wife and would do so again, adding personal details about his wife and her home address and again referring to John in demeaning, sexually humiliating ways while playing himself up as a desirable man. At some point during those texts John fired back a vile, racist slur of his own, though he had no idea what race the sender was.
A day later the texts got more intimidating: the sender sent a picture of John’s house with the words: “I know.” The image was taken from just 30 or 40 yards away.
“You still gonna cut my throat????” the sender asked John in a text. John replied: “Yea… come back.” The sender continued to taunt him with insults, dares and slurs, ending with “Sleep with 1 eye open bitch.”
After receiving that text, John reviewed his own surveillance camera’s footage and noticed a law enforcement patrol car passing by his house twice around the same time when the image had been sent to him. John told the sender he had him on camera. “Lol I just came by again Ima see you later,” the sender texted.
By then John had deduced that to him, the patrol car driver was Varnes, and the sender was Varnes. He addressed him as such, telling him he knew who he was, and that he’d sent the information to several people in case something happened to him. He also told Varnes that he knew patrol vehicles are equipped with GPS trackers, which precisely trace a vehicle’s travels.
Varnes then tells him John has him all figured pout, but adds that he (Varnes) will now “file charges today for threats and a hate crime for your racial slurs.” Varnes then takes the taunting in a different direction, threatening to “expose” his racist texts with a picture of John attached.
That was the end of the text exchange. John was fearful of again contacting the sheriff’s office because “filing his initial complaint on Dedorius Varnes was the genesis of the threats and harassment,” the detective’s investigative report states.
It’s not clear from the report how the sheriff’s office determined that an incident involving Varnes had unfolded. But while investigating the first case, they had discovered that Varnes used a “text now” phone, which masks the user’s identity.
In early July a detective was assigned the new case and opened the investigation, securing an interview with John on July 3. John produced the texts and the video footage of the patrol car. GPS data and Varnes’s schedule and assigned sectors were analyzed. The data showed Varnes’s patrol car going by John’s house, turning around and going by again the evening of the incendiary texts. He was out of his assigned sector. Dispatching indicated he had no calls for service or emergencies outside of his sector.
To link the “Text Now” phone to Varnes, Detectives spoke with an on-and-off girlfriends of Varnes’ in Palatka and St Augustine who described his odd use of multiple cell phones, and confirmed that they’d received texts from that particular cell phone.
Varnes himself, who submitted to an interview with detectives, made a strange claim: that sometimes while he was working in his patrol car, he’d fall asleep and “people might take his phone or drive his patrol vehicle around.”
“All of the evidence gathered during this investigation indicates that the only motive Dedorius Varnes had to text [John] was retaliation for the complaint filed by [John] with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office” in November 2019.
The detective’s investigation found probable cause to charge Varnes with making threats and extortion, and tampering or harassing a victim, both second degree felonies, criminal use of a public record and providing false information, and aggravated stalking, both third-degree felonies. He was actually charged with just aggravated stalking.
“This is an instance of a rogue officer tarnishing the badge,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in a release issued this afternoon. “This type of
behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated and to see that he has done it on more than one occasion is appalling. He is an embarrassment to the law enforcement profession and deserves to go to prison. We are doing everything we can to have the state revoke his law enforcement certificate.”
Varnes was booked at the county jail on $25,000 bond, which he quickly posted. He was released. He is represented in both cases by Michael Lambert, the Daytona Beach attorney, who had not yet seen the new charges when contacted by FlaglerLive today.
“We will review the facts under oath via depositions and see where that leaves us,” Lambert said in an email. “That though is at a later date and time. His arrest is how the process begins. Time, and discovery, can cure errors on either side.”