Mel's Angels

Powerhouse attorney Mel McDonald needed help to keep a relative from being charged with child molesting. The Phoenix and Gilbert police departments were only too happy to accommodate him.

He says he loves to represent society's underdogs whenever possible and, oddly, includes into that category a convicted child molester he's defending in a lawsuit filed by a female victim about the same age as Patty Lake.

McDonald is personable, savvy and never bashful about sharing his point of view. Like a freestyle wrestler, he wears down his foes.

His doggedness has been both blessing and curse for Patty Lake.
When county attorney's investigators asked why he'd reported the molestations to Phoenix police Sergeant Susan Porter, McDonald denied telling Janet Brooks that Porter was a close friend.

"Where she [Brooks] got that," McDonald said, "I don't know. . . . In all honesty, before I called [Porter], I couldn't even remember her name."

"That might have been an assumption," replied investigator Sue Lindley, "because you were able to make the phone call and affect some real accommodating results at Phoenix PD."

Years earlier, McDonald had successfully represented Porter and other officers in a lawsuit filed by a man once accused of child molesting.

"We were not personal friends," Porter told the investigators in 1995, "and I can see that there was an assumption made about that, but that really wasn't accurate. . . . He said, 'I've found out that [Patty] has been molesting [Tim],' and he said, 'Naturally, we're trying to get counseling for all of the kids.' This is a very, very common situation and people call me all the time asking for advice in these areas."

McDonald told investigators he had good reason to seek out Porter. Phoenix has a more experienced sex-crimes unit than smaller Gilbert. Also, at the time, he was campaigning for a seat on the Gilbert City Council, and wanted to avoid any conflict-of-interest issues.

Finally, he concluded that Patty might have molested Sharon Brooks once in Phoenix, so either police agency legitimately could investigate.

The Brooks and Lake families went to Phoenix police headquarters in November 1992. Porter assigned veteran sex-crimes detective Alicia Ryberg to sort out the case.

"I just remember that she was very forthcoming," Ryberg recalled of her interview with Patty Lake. "She admitted to molesting [Tim], and I don't recall her admitting that she molested [Sharon]. She was a very nice girl, very quiet, and she talked to me about what happened."

Tim Brooks wouldn't say much to Ryberg, which isn't unusual for a young molestation victim. Police often ask trained experts to pinch-hit for them in such situations, especially after the perpetrator has confessed. But Ryberg didn't seek such help. (Ryberg later couldn't recall if she'd interviewed Sharon Brooks, then 6.)

If McDonald didn't consider Porter a friend before, he surely must now. He got exactly what he desired from the sergeant--a halfhearted investigation and not a mention to county prosecutors.

"Everything was turned back over to Sergeant Porter," Ryberg told county attorney's investigators in January 1996. "She advised me to not make a report because it wasn't Phoenix's jurisdiction, it was Gilbert."

The entire episode, Ryberg said, was extraordinary.
"I'm trying to think if it's happened before," Ryberg said. "To say it was the norm, no, it wasn't the norm . . ."

Porter's explanation to investigators: "There are times where we just don't really have to write a police report but we might keep something in note form in case something comes back later. . . . And then you look back like and think, well, gee, I wish we'd not done that. [But] this isn't about protecting Mel McDonald at all."

In McDonald's view, avoiding the unnecessary interference of prosecutors and judges was best.

"It's taking her in before a judge to get identically the same thing that's going to happen anyway," he said, when asked why he so vehemently opposed charging Patty as a juvenile. "Why do it? It's one more step in a process. It's standing up and telling a judge what she's already told the police and what she's already telling the counselor."

The Phoenix cops apparently agreed.
Ryberg told investigators she turned "everything back over to Sergeant Porter" after she finished her interviews. And at Porter's direction, the detective said, Ryberg didn't prepare a police report.

That spelled the end of Phoenix PD's involvement. No one could say why Phoenix PD failed to alert its Gilbert peers about the crimes.

Patty Lake's parents sent her to the Center Against Sexual Assault--an interesting choice because CASA is renowned for its work with victims, not offenders. Patty was both--teenage boys had sexually molested her when she was a little girl--but that raised a problem.

In those days, CASA's limited offender program was designed for children younger than 15-year-old Patty. (In mid-1995, the agency stopped accepting adolescent sex offenders for treatment.)

The agency customized a program for Patty, then counseled her for about six months before it transferred her into treatment as a victim.

Janet Brooks took her two children, Tim and Sharon, to Dr. Adele Mayer, a Mesa therapist. Sharon Brooks told Mayer about being molested by Patty. But Tim still wouldn't say much.

"There were times when he would run out of my office and climb a tree," Mayer told investigators last April. "I encouraged him to talk about this, all the reasons he should. . . . It didn't matter who he talked to as long as he took some positive action on his own behalf."

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