A Northwest resident who spent 23 days in jail for two armed robberies for which another man has since been convicted and imprisoned for has filed a lawsuit against Marana, Tucson, Pima County and more than 15 individuals involved in his arrest.
Justin Kitts, 23, was arrested by Marana Police June 4, 2002 and charged with the armed robberies of a shoe store in Marana and an ice cream shop in Tucson, both of which had occurred the month before.
Kitts said police refused to consider his repeated claims of innocence despite a distinctive flame tattoo running the length of Kitts' arm that none of the witnesses to the robberies recalled, DNA evidence obtained from the actual robbery, and images of the gunman from a surveillance camera in the shoe store.
"I got arrested for 23 days for something I didn't do," said Kitts, who works at a tattoo parlor on West Ina Road "I was just going to lunch one day, the cops saw me and a couple days later I end up in jail. I told them what happened and it's like they didn't want to listen."
Sgt. Bill Derfus, a spokesperson for the Marana Police Department, refused to comment on the lawsuit but said police had arrested 23-year-old Kevin Ryan Puckett last year "for a string of robberies" that included the businesses Kitts was accused of robbing.
Arizona Department of Corrections records indicate Puckett is currently imprisoned in Winslow after he received a 10-year sentence for armed robbery.
A check of local court records indicate Kitts has never been arrested for any serious crimes besides the robberies, which still have not been expunged from Pima County Superior Court records.
Sgt. Judy Altieri, a spokesperson for the Tucson Police Department, also refused to comment on the lawsuit but said Kitts had been identified from a photo line-up shown to witnesses as part of the investigation.
A flurry of summons were served last month on 22 defendants listed in the lawsuit filed in Pima County Superior Court. The suit seeks an unspecified amount of compensation for claims of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment.
Defendants in the case include Tucson, Marana and their respective police departments; former Marana Police Chief David R. Smith and Tucson Police Chief Richard Miranda; Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall; the arresting officers from Marana and detectives from the MPD and TPD and an officer in Marana's crime scene and evidence unit.
Attorneys for Marana, Tucson and Pima County did not return calls seeking comment. Attorneys for the three jurisdictions denied wrongdoing in responses filed in May in Superior Court.
Kitts said two days before his arrest, MPD officers began intently staring at him and eventually questioned him at a Marana restaurant.
Kitts said the officers him told him he resembled the description of a man sought for the robberies of the Payless Shoe Source at 3701 W. Ina Road May 17, 2002 and the Baskin-Robbins at 2648 E. Speedway May 20, 2002 and detectives would be contacting him soon.
According to the suit, Kitts repeatedly contacted the MPD before his arrest to protest his innocence and was "told not to call anymore."
The suit claims Tucson police obtained DNA evidence from an ice cream spoon licked by the robber of the Baskin-Robbins and Kitts voluntarily provided a sample of his own DNA to try and clear himself.
"They never processed the DNA evidence," Kitts said.
Detectives from both the Marana and Tucson police departments interrogated Kitts during the course of the investigation, the suit claims.
Witnesses, including an employee who had a clear view of the robber as he held a gun with his right hand to the employee's head, made no mention of any distinctive marks on the assailant's arm, according to the suit.
Kitts said he has "bright blue flames that no one could miss" tattooed from his wrist up the length of his right arm.
In addition, Kitts apartment was searched and no evidence linking him to the crime was found, the suit claims.
"I even had records that I was working at the tattoo shop the night they said I did it. I was actually receiving a tattoo that night," Kitts said. "I offered my DNA. I offered them everything I could to try and convince them. I tried to get them to call my family - anything - and it was still 'nothing doing.'"
After interviewing Kitts, officials from Pima County Court's Pretrial Services Division had recommended he be released pending trial, the suit claims.
"The county attorney's office, however, argued intensely to the court that (Kitts) should remain incarcerated until trial. (He) therefore stayed 23 days in jail," Kitts attorney, Stephen Trezza wrote in the court filing.
Trezza could not be reached for comment.
Kitts said he was offered no explanation or apology after spending more than three weeks in the Pima County Jail.
"Not a 'sorry' or anything," Kitts said. "They still have a favorite baseball cap of mine and my sunglasses and other stuff. They stole from me, tore my apartment apart and cost me thousands of dollars in attorney costs. Its just been a nightmare."
No trial date has been set yet for the case, according to court records. The Marana Police Department refused a formal public records request filed by the Northwest EXPLORER in August for a copy of Kitts arrest report. Officials claimed the release of the record would jeopardize their investigation.
The MPD refused a second request for the report filed June 5, claiming the case is now in litigation. The EXPLORER is continuing to seek release of the report under provisions of the Arizona Public Record Law.