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.

With that in mind, on April 8, 1993--one week after Tim Brooks' call--Cross tossed the hot potato. Her summary report contained some curious turns of phrase.

"As a result of the interview," she wrote of the session with Mel McDonald, "Detective McLaws and I were able to clear up several unaddressed issues as well as to develop a chronological order of events . . .

"At this time, I do not feel that the incident as reported by [Tim Brooks] to Officer DeSpain needs to be handled as a criminal investigation. This particular incident was handled by Phoenix police, and I think it would be detrimental to [Patty's] therapy to reopen a matter that she believes to be criminally quashed by Phoenix police."

Deputy county attorney Dorothy Macias later asked Randy McLaws if he knew what Cross had meant by "unaddressed issues."

"No, I don't," he replied. "The whole thing pretty much was an unaddressed issue."

County attorney investigator Sue Lindley asked Joe Ruet about the term "criminally quashed."

Ruet: "I don't know what she meant by that."
Lindley: "I don't know that that's necessarily something that you find in Webster's cop dictionary."

Cross tried lamely to explain her irregular report during an October 1995 interview with Macias and Lindley.

"I'm thinking, how do you really close this out without ignoring something that hasn't been done? How do you politically correctly close this thing out and still sound intelligent yourself that you know what's going on, even if you're not really sure of everything, but that you felt good?"

Tim Brooks apparently didn't feel good about the response to his complaint.
"Initially, he presented in a much more positive light," his therapist, Adele Mayer, told Lindley last April. "This did not last long because this boy expected some action within a matter of weeks and nothing happened. So I think he felt even worse afterwards because he tried and nothing happened."

A Case Reborn
After Gilbert police closed the Patty Lake case in April 1993, it appeared Mel McDonald's magic had worked again.

But rumors of McDonald's fix swirled through the department, and they nagged at Gilbert Sergeant Todd Baty, who had had a dispute with McDonald in an earlier, unrelated case. (Baty, Gilbert PD's Officer of the Year for 1996, wouldn't comment for this story.)

In October 1994, McDonald wrote a letter to Gilbert police chief Fred Dees after the detention of a 13-year-old girl on suspicion of molesting two little boys.

In a letter to Dees, McDonald chided Gilbert detective Dave Williams--who reported to Baty--for collecting the girl at her school. (She later was acquitted.)

Williams didn't take kindly to the affront, noting in a police report, "The language of the letter caused me to have concerns that Mr. McDonald was attempting to influence the course of my investigation."

Of course McDonald was trying to influence the investigation. That's what aggressive attorneys do.

But McDonald seemed oblivious to the irony that Gilbert police were playing hardball with this teenager, while they'd coddled his relative, Patty Lake.

In August 1995, a 16-year-old Gilbert boy rammed into a car at Cooper and Elliot roads, killing three and gravely injuring two others. The boy said he'd fallen asleep behind the wheel, a claim Gilbert police doubted after they found skid marks at the scene.

The boy's family hired Mel McDonald. He engaged Gilbert PD in full-scale war, later proving to the satisfaction of prosecutors that the skid marks had come from another vehicle.

But some Gilbert cops didn't see how McDonald could be a Gilbert councilman while also taking on cases potentially embarrassing to his city.

McDonald claims a reporter for Tribune Newspapers contacted him around that time. The writer told him an unnamed Gilbert cop had slipped her records about the Lake molestation case and an unrelated report.

"[The reporter] assured me . . . that the two police reports were filed where they belonged--in the trash," McDonald said in a letter last April to County Attorney Richard Romley.

Tribune Newspapers did publish a story August 15, 1995, which focused only on McDonald's alleged conflict-of-interest issue concerning the 13-year-old girl and the triple fatality. (Just weeks ago, the Tribune published a glowing portrait of McDonald, titled "Hard fighter with a soft heart." The piece began, "The only role A. Melvin McDonald hasn't played in Arizona's legal system is the accused.")

Two days after the news story about the conflicts of interest appeared, Todd Baty verbally complained about McDonald and the Lake case to a prosecutor. He then elaborated in a two-page memo to the County Attorney's Office.

"In reviewing the original report and related supplements from the Gilbert Police Department," Baty wrote in requesting an investigation, "I've been unable to locate a pursuit of justice."

On September 22, 1995, the office assigned prosecutor Dorothy Macias and investigator Susan Lindley to the "Mel McDonald thing." Chief deputy Paul Ahler says Macias and Lindley were "the best people we had in their positions to put on it."

They are known for their professional diligence.
Last May, a pregnant Macias insisted on finishing her closing argument in an unrelated child-molestation case after her water broke. (The defendant was convicted; Macias later resigned to be a full-time mother.) Lindley has earned honors for her solid mix of compassion and information gathering.

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