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N4T Investigators: Deputies' Dispute - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Deputies' Dispute

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TUCSON - Law enforcement organizations are joining in a legal fight for Pima County deputy and correction officer pay.

Four deputies are named in a notice of claim against Pima County. That is required before a lawsuit can be filed.

Stephen Portell is the attorney representing the deputies. He said more potential plaintiffs may be added.

"Those are people who are particularly courageous, I'd say" Portell said, "and I’d also say that the opportunity still is open to other folks within the organizations."

The deputies' and correction officers' endorsements are part of the reason Sheriff Mark Napier was elected in 2016. Portell said their feelings about their new boss have changed.

"The word that was consistently used throughout this process is 'betrayed,'" Portell said.

Detective Eric Cervantez started his career with the department in 2007. Now he leads the Deputy Sheriff Association. He said he understands why deputies did not get their promised raises 10 years ago.

"I believe the economy is better, yes," Cervantez said. "And I believe, as well as a lot of my members believe, that we should be put where we were supposed to be."

A 2008 department memo outlined deputies pay progression over the course of 8 years. That progression was eliminated with budget cuts. Deputies hope that will be treated like a contract in a potential lawsuit.

"They tell you what you're going to be making after your first, second, all the way up to your 8th year," Cervantez said. "You're owed that."

Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Richard Elias said returning to the 2008 pay structure is not realistic.

"We understand that's problematic," Elias said, "but we also understand what our budget limitations are."

The majority of deputies and correction officers were given pay raises that ranged from 5 to 20 percent in 2016. Even deputies at the top of the scale were given raises, which would not have happened under the 2008 pay structure.

"It was a sizable raise for them," Elias said, "to try and give them parity with some of the other public safety agencies in the state, and that's really the better way to look at it."

Maricopa County is the only county agency in the state with higher deputy pay, according to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

Napier wrote a memo last year stating he had reached some agreement with Huckelberry regarding department pay. Portell said the law requires a more public process.

"You can't have a sheriff unilaterally decide that a pay program is done, or an unelected official, a county administrator, has decided that it's done," Portell said. "That's completely undemocratic. It's completely outside our laws."

Jobe Dickinson leads the Tucson Police Officers Association. He said he is watching the deputies' case closely.

"We feel that the city leadership had the same promises made to us," Dickinson said. "And so if the Pima County sheriff's deputies are successful with this notice of claim, or if turns into a lawsuit, we feel that information kind of shows the city leadership they need to deliver what was promised to us years ago."

The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Arizona voted to financially support the deputies' legal costs in their case.

Portell did not want to assume his case will necessarily help officers in other agencies.

"Deputies and city police officers have really, very different systems," Portell said.

Sheriff Napier said he was declining to comment because the claim is ongoing.

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