How the MCSO Neglected a 14-Year-Old Rape Victim — and Went to Town on Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon

Abigail Brown was 14 years old — a high school freshman and a virgin — when some juniors and seniors got her drunk at a party and videotaped her having sex with them.

The young men, go figure, had all the usual excuses. She was drunk, man! She was asking for it! "Dude, seriously, I'm not the raping type," one of the suspects protested to sheriff's investigators — just minutes after admitting to having had sex with an extremely drunk 14-year-old girl on the bathroom floor while a half-dozen of his friends watched.

"We went into the bathroom to fuck," the suspect admitted. "Girls and morals just . . . I mean, not that many of them have them these days. I guess I don't have that many either."

Now there's the understatement of the year.

The law is very clear on certain points. Even if a girl is "asking for it," if she's 14, it's statutory rape. No amount of flirting makes it okay — even if she's drunk.

Make that, especially if she's drunk. And especially if there's a videotape! This wasn't an incident where two in-love teens were playing around; this was the very definition of exploitation.

Just don't try telling that to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

For these guys, apparently, it's still 1953. A drunk girl is a slutty girl. And if he says she wants it bad, well, undoubtedly she's to blame for her own assault.

We now know that the MCSO was told the truth about what happened to Abigail Brown in 2001. The investigators' efforts were half-hearted at best: They never tracked down a copy of the videotape, even though dozens of kids had seen it. They didn't bother to find most of the students at the party. And when one of the suspects suggested that Brown had a "tarnished reputation," the detective working the case seemed all too willing to agree.

After one suspect failed to show up for questioning, the MCSO closed out the file. It didn't even bother to tell Brown.

"The detective didn't even answer my phone calls after a few months," Brown says today.

"America's Toughest Sheriff," it seems, is only tough when the case is high-profile and the cameras are rolling. Give him complicated circumstances or the slightest setback and he folds like a card table.

And here's the kicker.

When the MCSO closed Abigail Brown's case, it filed the case under "cleared."

The FBI requires that "cleared" cases result either in arrest or "exceptional" circumstances — meaning that the agency knows who's guilty but can't actually arrest him. (For example, the suspect might be dead or imprisoned in a country that refuses extradition.)

Abigail Brown's case meets neither of those requirements.

When the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office touts its high clearance rate and argues that Sheriff Joe Arpaio is running a professional law enforcement agency, it's worth remembering what happened to Abigail Brown.

Hers was a case the MCSCO cleared: A case where it dropped the ball, let the bad guys go free, and left the victim hanging without so much as a phone call.

Abigail Brown is now a pretty, poised woman. And, yes, Abigail Brown is her real name — she decided to come forward, on the record, because she wants changes to be made. She wants to make sure that the Sheriff's Office can no longer sweep cases like hers under the rug.

Last week, on what happened to be her 23rd birthday, Brown addressed the media from a podium at the Goldwater Institute, the libertarian think tank in Phoenix.

The director of the institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, Clint Bolick, issued a report last year that was highly critical of the Sheriff's Office's "misplaced priorities." Bolick's report noted that the MCSO appeared to be violating FBI rules by "clearing" an abnormal amount of cases without actually, you know, solving them.

In the aftermath of that report, a former colleague of Bolick's in Boston put him in touch with Abigail Brown. She agreed to become the "face" of a very real problem in this county.

As Brown explained last week, in the aftermath of the assault she suffered eight years ago, Moon Valley High School was abuzz with the drama. The videotape of that night — which supposedly showed Brown drunkenly having sex with at least one guy, and then naked in the shower — was played at numerous parties and whispered about in the hallways.

One of Brown's friends was so concerned that she contacted a family friend, an officer with the Phoenix Police Department. When the officer realized that the incident actually took place in the jurisdiction of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, she referred the case to it.

At the MCSO's behest, Abigail Brown sat down with officers and told them what happened. She told them there was a videotape and that numerous people at her school had seen it. (In fact, a friend of her sister's had seen the video at a party, just weeks before.) She explained that she was 14 at the time of the incident and that the guys were upperclassmen.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske