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.

The obstacles they faced were evident.
Years had passed. Memories had faded. Fingers were being pointed. Butts were being covered. Few were interested in having the case revived.

It isn't certain what Tim Brooks, nearing his 14th birthday, wanted. No one in authority had bothered to speak to the boy since the day he called the Gilbert Police Department.

The presence of Macias and Lindley seemed to indicate that the county attorney's top brass weren't going to let the Patty Lake case be swept under the rug again. The two pulled few punches during their months-long series of interviews.

"Do you have any idea why the victim wasn't interviewed by an investigator in this case?" Macias asked Gilbert police lieutenant Jack Young in November 1995.

"Do you have any idea why an investigator didn't get copies of anything that Phoenix PD did on file?"

"Do you have any idea why an investigator didn't talk to the suspect in this case?"

"Do you have any idea why the investigator in this case only essentially discussed the case with [Mel McDonald] and then made a phone call to the suspect's counselor?"

"No, other than . . . something happened in Phoenix and it was just my understanding that the whole thing was being taken over by Phoenix."

Macias also gave Gilbert detective Randy McLaws the third degree:
"[Tim Brooks] said, 'I think she should be put in jail and not do this again.' So from a victim's standpoint, what did he get out of this investigation. What did this 10-year-old learn about going to the police?"

"The victim went to report that crime just as part of therapy," McLaws replied. "The case had already been investigated by the police--that's how it was delivered to me. . . . Do we put the scope of the judicial system and the adjudication of [Patty Lake] in the hands of a 10-year-old?"

"Or do we put it in the hands of [Mel McDonald]?" Macias shot back.
The Phoenix officers in the case, Sue Porter and Alicia Ryberg, also tried to deflect blame.

"If Gilbert felt that there was some crime that occurred in their jurisdiction that they really needed to pursue," Porter said in her interview, "then they had the opportunity to do that."

But Porter admitted that she'd been uncomfortable about the case--even if she wouldn't admit that her worst fears about it had come to pass.

"Even at the time, I felt uneasy," she said. "So I really kind of expected someone to stand up after a while and say, 'Wait a minute, you know that's not right. You know she got away with a child molest because of [Mel McDonald].' So all through the thing, we took due caution . . . to make sure that we didn't do anything or say anything especially that made it look as though, 'Well, we'll fix this for you, don't worry about it.'"

Macias and Lindley never did get to review detective Ryberg's notes on her interview with Patty Lake. The detective had left sex crimes in 1994, and had destroyed the notes.

Unlike virtually all of his colleagues with badges, Gilbert police chief Fred Dees was surprisingly candid.

"I just think there's something really basically wrong here," Dees told investigators. "It seemed like we goofed, Phoenix goofed. . . . We didn't do right by [Tim Brooks], that's for sure."

When Macias and Lindley finally interviewed Mel McDonald last February, he applied all the powers of his persuasions. He spoke with hubris and authority, as though he still were calling all the shots. It was vintage McDonald.

"I don't think anybody is seriously saying, 'Well, gee, we're going to charge [Patty] now,'" he said. "We did everything right three years ago, so that's not an option. What would there be to gain other than to spiral the family again?"

But the investigators weren't buying it.
"Well, here's the thing, Mel," Macias replied, "we do charge juveniles for what happened at that point; we do that all the time."

"You do on cases where it wasn't addressed three years ago, and this case was addressed three years ago by two different police agencies," McDonald countered, accurately. But he conspicuously failed to mention that, while the case had been addressed, it had never been properly investigated.

Last March 18, Macias and Lindley met with Janet Brooks and her ex-husband, father of Tim and Sharon.

Wrote Macias of that meeting: "I explained that, for some reason, the investigation by Phoenix PD and Gilbert PD had not followed a normal course. Mr. [Brooks] said the reason was 'obvious'--he pointed to Mr. Mel McDonald's past positions as a former U.S. Attorney, a former judge and a former prosecutor as the 'obvious' reason . . ."

Janet Brooks told Mel McDonald about the meeting. McDonald concedes that he immediately swung into action, but can't seem to recall the details.

"I don't remember if I did call Rick Romley or if I didn't call Rick Romley about this," he said in an interview. McDonald is known for his near-photographic memory, so New Times pressed him on this point.

"It's more likely that I called [Romley aide] Barnett Lotstein," he continued, "because [Mrs. Brooks] was so upset after meeting with Dorothy that she was crying uncontrollably."

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