A couple is suing several members of the Sheriff’s Department, the Board of Supervisors and Arizona Department of Child Safety employees, claiming their two sons were temporarily removed from their home because the parents refused to cooperate in a criminal investigation into break-ins and illegal parties.
Last year, investigators learned that vacant luxury homes listed for sale were being broken into and used by young people to hold parties involving drugs and underage drinking. Some of the vacant homes were damaged during the parties.
The Sheriff’s Department made roughly 50 arrests during the yearlong investigation, which included felony charges of burglary and aggravated criminal damage, as well as various misdemeanors, said Deputy Cody Gress, a department spokesman.
The lawsuit filed by Karl and Gretchen Daschke in Pima County Superior Court says their older son was falsely identified as the mastermind of the illegal parties, which took place in multiple high-end homes.
While their then-16-year-old son was arrested in December on several charges related to the incidents, the charges against him were dropped in July. Their two sons were removed from their home in December, but a Pima County Juvenile Court judge ordered them returned to the couple within a few days.
It is the Star’s policy not to identify minors who aren’t charged with crimes.
Pima County Deputies Theodore Hartenstein and J.P. Siress and Sheriff Mark Napier are named as defendants in the lawsuit, in addition to the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
Also named are DCS employees Gerardo Telemantes, Mildred Jimenez, Valerie Wilhoite and Karla Grove.
In the spring of 2016, the Sheriff’s Department began investigating what they referred to as the “mansion parties” after repeatedly being called to investigate suspicious activities that took place at unoccupied “high-end” homes, the family’s lawsuit says.
Deputies repeatedly went to homes listed for sale, finding evidence of break-ins and “many people having been in the homes,” according to the lawsuit. Party attendees told deputies most of the participants were adolescents and that illegal drugs and alcohol were being used at the parties, the lawsuit says.
Several months after the investigation began, senior sheriff’s commanders became concerned with the department’s inability to stop the parties and assigned Hartenstein and Siress to case, the lawsuit says.
In mid-August, deputies responded to three reports of parties at different locations and found $30,000 of damage to the interior of one of the homes, the lawsuit says.
Over the next few days, citizens alerted the department to social media posts that identified at least five suspects, who didn’t include the Daschke’s son, according to the lawsuit.
When deputies interviewed one of the suspects — a 14-year-old girl — she identified several boys she said were involved in the parties, one of whom has the same first name as the Daschkes’ son. The girl didn’t know the boy’s last name, but showed investigators a photo of the boy, who is black, the lawsuit says. The Daschkes’ son is white.
The girl’s phone was taken as evidence, and because the Daschkes’ son’s name appeared in the contact list, he was identified as a person of interest in the case.
In November, the lawsuit claims Hartenstein decided the Daschkes’ son would be “targeted” as the mastermind of the parties, “though he knew there was no probable cause to arrest (him) for any offense.”
Hartenstein asked the Daschkes if he could interview their son, but they declined to do so without an attorney present, the lawsuit says.
Over the next few weeks, Hartenstein and Siress “conspired” to create an affidavit for a search warrant that said the Daschkes’ son was a key participant in promoting the parties, the lawsuit says.
The warrant was issued, and on Dec. 14 two deputies searched the Daschkes’ home, the lawsuit says. The Daschkes’ son was arrested the same day and taken to the Sheriff’s Department where his DNA and fingerprints were taken, according to the lawsuit.
Hartenstein contacted DCS about the case, telling caseworkers that the Daschkes’ son was running the parties, which promoted drinking, drugs and casual sex, and was facing multiple felony charges, according to the lawsuit, which alleges Hartenstein intended to use the threat of removal to get the boy’s parents to cooperate with the investigation and for their son to accept the blame for organizing the parties.
Telemantes went to school to interrogate the Daschkes’ younger son — who was not a suspect in the case — without parental consent, the lawsuit says.
Although interviews with school staff and the Daschkes revealed “no imminent safety concerns” for the younger boy and no evidence of either of the boys being victims of abuse or neglect, Telemantes decided the two boys should be removed from the home, according to the lawsuit.
In an “assessment of risk factors” document, Telemantes “specifically identified as a factor in justifying the emergency removal that ‘parents have refused to cooperate with law enforcement and failed to control his criminal activity,’” the lawsuit says.
Telemantes told the Daschkes their sons would be immediately removed from the home due to their failure to cooperate, but he did not indicate what imminent risk factors were involved in allowing for the removal, according to the lawsuit.
In December, DCS took custody of the Daschkes’ two sons. The lawsuit says the younger son was placed by the agency “in a dangerous, abusive environment where other detainees were using drugs and engaging in intimidation and fights,” adding the boy was “terrified for his safety.”
The day the boys were taken into DCS custody, they were interviewed by an independent social worker who reported both boys and their household presented low imminent safety risks. The social worker told DCS of her findings, but on Dec. 29, Telemantes and Jimenez prepared a report seeking to maintain custody of the boys, the lawsuit says.
The next day, a Juvenile Court judge at a dependency hearing ordered DCS to return the boys to their parents. The son identified as a suspect was in DCS custody for eight days and the younger son for seven.
On Jan. 10, the Daschkes’ older son was charged in Juvenile Court with burglary, criminal damage, criminal trespass and narcotic drug possession — all felonies, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says there was no evidence found on any of the Daschkes’ computers and phones that identified their son as the organizer of the illegal parties.
On Feb. 17, Hartenstein obtained a search warrant requiring Twitter to disclose information related to the account publicizing the parties, which showed it was operated by another individual and wasn’t active until Oct. 31.
The lawsuit says Hartenstein failed to provide critical information about the case to prosecutors, including that the Twitter account for the parties was registered to someone other than the Daschkes’ son.
On July 24, all charges against their son were dismissed.
The lawsuit claims the defendants violated the Daschkes’ First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights and exercised judicial deception and falsification, unreasonable search and seizure, due process violations and retaliation. The Daschkes are asking for compensatory, punitive and special damages, along with attorney fees.
“Police actions can have, as in this case, far-reaching consequences for families caught up in them,” said the Daschkes’ attorney, Michael G. Moore.
“It is unfortunate enough when searches and seizures are actually justified, but unforgivable when law enforcement officers use their power outside the law.”
Having their children taken away by the state is most parents’ greatest fear, Moore said.
“This fear the Daschkes endured for months, and it will be a very long time, if ever, when these events do not color the family’s life,” he said.
The suspect identified as the main organizer — who is a minor — was arrested, and may be charged as an adult when he turns 18 next month, Gress said.
The Sheriff’s Department was unable to comment on the lawsuit, as it is an active legal case, Gress said.
Darren DaRonco, DCS spokesman, said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at email@example.com or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlinschmidt