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Carmona blasts Sheriff Nanos, who denies claims as 'political'

A former official with the Pima County Sheriff's Department accused incumbent Sheriff Chris Nanos of "unacceptable" behavior and said that deputies faced retaliation for speaking out against unethical and illegal activities.

Nanos, a Democrat on the ballot in November, countered that the attack was "politically motivated."

Dr. Richard Carmona, former U.S. Surgeon General and a 30-year veteran of the department, held a news conference on Thursday, and told a crowd of around 80 people that Nanos led a "reign of terror" at the department. 

"This isn't political," Carmona said. "Every citizen should know what's going on in the department when they vote."

Nano's predecessor, longtime Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, said the Carmona was attacking Nanos because the surgeon wasn't himself set up to become sheriff.

Nanos, the former chief deputy, was appointed by the Pima County Board of Supervisors on Dupnik's recommendation when he retired last July, but now faces an election challenge from Republican Mark Napier.

"I'm not just a spokesperson. This is my family, folks," Carmona said. "And we all speak as one: this behavior is unacceptable." 

Carmona said that deputies "lived in fear" for their jobs and faced "intimidation, retaliation, coercion" from Nanos and members of his command staff. "All of these employees have followed department policy regarding complaints," Carmona said, but a change in the complaint process means that the "system was rigged." 

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As Carmona spoke, 15 members of the Pima County Deputy Sheriff's Association stood behind him, along with members of the Tucson Police Officers Association, who said they were there "to show support" for the deputies. 

Carmona, who rain for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 2012, said that several of these deputies had been demoted because they stood up to Nanos. This includes Sgt. Kevin Kubitsky, who said he was removed from a position after he spoke out, leading to a confrontation with the sheriff. 

Kubitksy told Tucson Police Department detectives that Nanos had assaulted him following an event at a Fraternal Order of Police lodge, claiming that the sheriff had poked him in the chest.

In April, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which picked up the investigation because of a potential conflict of interest, declined to press charges against Nanos.

"The reason I'm here today is that many of them called, over many months to say 'Rich, we can't speak up, we've been told our careers will be over unless we line up behind Sheriff Nanos, unless we look the other way while bad things are being done,'" Carmona said. 

That includes the misuse of money seized from drug operations that must be used for anti-crime measures, Carmona claimed.

Known as RICO funds, some of this money may have been used to open a cafe at the department's headquarters, and operated by the niece of Chief Deputy Christopher Radtke. 

The Arizona Daily Star's Caitlin Schmidt reported the possible misuse of funds, and earlier this year, Schmidt reported that the FBI was investigating the department. 

An FBI spokesman did not confirm or deny that the bureau was probing PCSD. However, Carmona said that he was "indebted to the FBI for investigating the agency." 

"We're grateful that the FBI stepped in and saw enough probable cause to start an investigation," Carmona said. 

Carmona also claimed that Nanos had interfered with at least two PCSD investigations, including the suicide of PCSD Chief of Staff Bradley Gagnepain, and the investigation and arrests of a group of teenagers who broke into vacant houses to have parties.

 Carmona said that last week the Pima County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and Pima County Corrections Officers Association endorsed Napier. 

Nanos said that Carmona's accusations were "politically motivated." 

"The timing of this is obvious," Nanos said. 

"Carmona has wanted to be sheriff for a long time," Nanos said, adding that there was no evidence supporting the claims against him. "I've not seen it, because it doesn't exist." 

The complaints from deputies were part of a larger conflict over pay raises, Nanos said and that he had not reprimanded or demoted deputies since he became sheriff.

"Prove to me when I've been tougher than I should have been," he said. 

Carmona said that because he had spoken out he was not allowed in the department's headquarters and had been removed from the organizational chart, but Nanos disputed that, saying that after Carmona received a contract last November, he hadn't been in the building. 

"He's a sheriff's surgeon, I don't need him," Nanos said. Nanos also disputed a comment from Carmona that he had "fired" the FBI from a joint task force in retaliation for their investigation into the department's cafe. 

"We still work closely with the FBI and are currently working on an ongoing investigation," he said. 

Napier, who didn't attend Carmona's press conference, said that he was running against Nanos in part because he had heard that deputies were increasingly demoralized under the sheriff's year-long tenure. 

"At thirst I thought it might be embellishment, but soon I found I was hearing the same thing from guys who are really just miserable," Napier said via phone after Carmona spoke.

Napier came up short in a 2012 challenge to Dupnik.

"There's just an atmosphere of venality and retaliation that pervades the department; it's stifling," Napier said. Deputies to him that the promotion process was not transparent or fair, and that there was systemic corruption in the department, Napier said. 

Some deputies had been transferred to harder assignments or were overlooked for promotion under Nanos, he said. 

He was careful to note that Carmona was acting on his own, and not as part of the Republican's campaign.

"Public safety is not a political issue," said Napier. "This was Rich's show."

In a letter delivered to reporters before Carmona spoke, former sheriff Dupnik said it was "very difficult" to understand why Carmona is "trying to single-handedly destroy" the department. 

"For more than 30 years, the Pima County Sheriff's Department has been a significant part of Dr. Carmona's life and career. That is why is so sad and hurtful to now have him turn on us," Dupnik wrote. 

He also noted that he had considered promoting Carmona to chief deputy, with the eventual chance to be become sheriff, but that he was told by the Pima County Board of Supervisors that they would not support Carmona's promotion. 

Dupnik decided to back Nanos for the job instead, and Carmona "became extremely angry and agitated" and "stormed out of my office," Dupnik wrote. 

"Since that time, while not running for office himself, he has been running a tireless campaign against the current sheriff citing unfounded and inaccurate claims of cronyism and fraud," Dupnik wrote. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Dr. Richard Carmona holds a press conference accusing the Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos of a 'reign of terror' at the department.