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.

In early April 1993, about six months after the Phoenix police had closed the case, Tim Brooks had some surprising news for his therapist:

"He came in very proud that he had called the Gilbert police and reported this, and wanted something done about it," Mayer said. "He wanted [Patty] in jail."

On April 1, 1993, Tim Brooks phoned the Gilbert Police Department and said he'd been molested. Ron DeSpain, an experienced officer with a kindly demeanor, took the call.

The boy told DeSpain that Patty Lake had pinned him to a bed and performed sexual acts on him. Tim said the girl also had molested his sister, and that their mother knew about it.

"He explained to me he wanted [Patty] arrested, that he didn't want her to do this anymore to anybody," DeSpain later told county attorney's investigators. "I explained to him at that point that we would have to do an investigation and we would do the best we could for him . . ."

DeSpain asked to speak to Janet Brooks, who said that she stood by her son, but didn't believe a police investigation was necessary.

She explained how Mel McDonald had resolved the situation months earlier through Phoenix's Sue Porter, and how Porter had directed her children and Patty Lake into counseling.

The call troubled DeSpain. The Brooks children had been assaulted at their home in Gilbert, which should have left it in his agency's jurisdiction.

The officer wondered what kind of strings Mel McDonald had been pulling.
DeSpain soon sent a written account to Gilbert's detective division in which he suggested that "two sexual assaults have occurred here in Gilbert over the last two years involving [Patty Lake] and the victims."

No one at Gilbert PD took action for four days. On April 5, 1993, according to a police report, Janet Brooks called Gilbert sergeant (now lieutenant) Joe Ruet. She repeated that Phoenix already had investigated the case.

Ruet's report indicates he spoke that day to Phoenix PD's Alicia Ryberg, who confirmed that she'd interviewed Patty Lake and Tim Brooks months earlier.

Ryberg told Ruet she hadn't filed any police reports, but still had her notes if he needed to see them. Ruet said that wouldn't be necessary.

That afternoon, according to Ruet, Sue Porter called to say she'd just heard from Mel McDonald, and he was very upset.

Porter later denied this.
"I really don't recall making a phone call out there," she told investigators, "because, in my opinion, to do so would kind of make it like I was sort of trying to pull some strings with him or sway something in one direction."

McDonald recalls speaking with Sergeant Porter after he learned of Tim Brooks' call.

Ruet assigned Gilbert detective Jill Cross as the case's chief investigator. Detective Randy McLaws was to assist her.

Cross told county investigators last year that Ruet had issued some peculiar marching orders when he assigned her and McLaws to the case. "[He said] it would be best to speak at length with Mr. McDonald before pursuing the investigation further," Cross said.

As if on cue, Ruet's briefing with his detectives had been interrupted by a phone call. It was Mel McDonald, who announced he was on his way to Gilbert police headquarters.

Cross and McLaws didn't even have time to read Ron DeSpain's police report, or even to talk to DeSpain.

McLaws told county investigators, "I'd be willing to bet a month of lunches that [Ruet] used the phrase APE case when that was delivered to Jill . . . [Ruet] was very definitely letting us know that whatever we did on behalf of the department would be held under glass. There definitely was a difference between the person coming in to talk to us that afternoon than any other type of person that may be coming in on any other given case. That he definitely had clout and that our actions would definitely have implications."

McLaws specializes in burglary investigations, not sex crimes. Ruet told investigators he'd asked McLaws to assist Cross for one reason--his religion:

"McDonald is LDS. Randy is a Mormon, and I felt that that would avoid any criticism by having one LDS and one non-LDS investigator involved in it," Ruet said.

McDonald got to the Gilbert station minutes after his call.
He spent about two hours with the two detectives, much of it "bawling his eyes out," according to Cross' account. He seemed to be wearing two hats at once, Patty's relative and attorney.

Cross inferred that Patty's crimes were ancient history, not a few months old.

"I'm thinking, 'Well, five years have passed,'" she later told investigators, "a tenured detective [Phoenix's Ryberg] has handled this, [Patty's] been in counseling supposedly.' . . . So I just kind of left it at that."

The next day, April 6, according to Jill Cross' police report, she confirmed with CASA that Patty Lake was in counseling. She also tried unsuccessfully that day to contact Alicia Ryberg, but it didn't matter. By now she knew what was expected of her:

"I know [Ruet] wanted it turned in a timely manner--'We don't want this thing hanging over our heads, so let's move on it.' I'm sure it was like, 'Oh, my God, we got a hot potato here. Let's get this thing out of here. Let's clear it up and get it the hell out of here,'" Cross told county investigators.

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