PHOENIX - The Phoenix Police Department is denying accusations that it is trying to sweep a suspected hate crime under the rug.
That is the claim of the family of a Latino man gunned down outside his home last week.
The alleged killer was yelling racial slurs seconds before he fired the shots that killed 44-year-old Juan Varela.
Varela was a third-generation American, yet his family claims he was called a “wetback” who was going to be sent back to Mexico by the man who murdered him. They claim it was a hate crime and the police are not doing their job. That is a charge the department denies.
A family spokesperson says, “We ask for justice, that’s what the family wants is justice.”
She made the poignant request during Friday’s news conference at the state capitol. Some would argue the family is receiving justice since the alleged killer of 44-year-old Varela is behind bars and charged with second-degree murder but the family maintains there is more here than just another senseless act of violence.
A family member asks, “How do you comfort a mother who is grieving? How do you breathe life into a 13-year-old daughter who no longer has her father?”
One way the family says is to charge Varela’s alleged killer, 50-year-old Gary Kelley, with a hate crime. They claim he was emboldened to resort to violence because of the controversy over the states new anti-illegal immigrant law. The family is also upset over being visited the night of the murder by Phoenix Public Safety Manager Jack Harris.
The family spokesperson says, “In my opinion, he went to intimidate the family, to get them to not try and connect this to a racial crime.”
The police department issued a statement Friday afternoon which says: “We understand the family’s concerns, however everyone should know public safety Jack Harris was not at the scene that evening nor has he spoken with any member of the family personally. Our top priority will continue to be assisting the county attorney’s office in the successful prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
Varela's nephew and namesake says he hopes his uncles death will not be in vain. “That’s the reason why we’re here today is…to talk about hope and non-violence that we would not turn on one another that we would not hate one another but that we would turn together with love.”
The family feels the hysteria over illegal immigration contributed to Varela's death. However there is not data available to support their allegation that assaults on Hispanics have increased in the Valley since governor brewer signed Senate Bill 1070.