Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Sex-Crime Scandal After Five Years: No One Disciplined, Report Still Unfinished
More than five years after the Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio learned his agency had mishandled hundreds of sex-crime investigations, no one has been disciplined and a key report on the matter has yet to be released to the public.
The investigation into what happened is fraught with negative implications for Arpaio, whose decision to choose politics over policing in the mid-2000s resulted in the denial of justice for an unknown number of rape and molestation victims.
Arpaio learned of the debacle in late 2007, when officials in El Mirage -- a west Valley town that had been policed by the Sheriff's office from 2005 to 2007 -- informed Arpaio that problems had been discovered with dozens of sex-crime investigations. The Sheriff's Office ultimately re-examined more than 500 cases, finding that most had not been properly investigated.
The public has yet to learn what Arpaio's long-running internal investigation uncovered in terms of what went wrong, and who screwed up. Presumably, Arpaio's internal probe doesn't address the question of whether Arpaio himself did anything wrong.
The office has already tried to make scapegoats of lower-level employees who claim, with some supporting evidence, that the sex-crimes unit was kept habitually short-staffed -- sometimes because detectives were redirected to work on assignments like training police officers in Honduras or investigating rumors about one of Arpaio's political enemies, former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.
The Arizona Republic paraphrased Joe Arpaio in December of 2011 as saying that "an internal investigation into the mishandled cases is complete and sheriff's administrators are in the process of disciplining the deputies involved."
It's unclear whether Arpaio's statement back then was true. In any case, it's been a very long "process."
Last week, we asked Lisa Allen, Arpaio's veteran spokeswoman, whether anyone had been disciplined yet.
"We are still working with the County Attorney's office on the disciplinary end to this investigation. We anticipate a resolution soon but unclear as to exactly when," she replied in an email.
Lower-level employees in the sex-crimes unit have been criticized publicly for the scandal by the Sheriff's Office.
The current chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, told reporters in December 2011 that the disciplinary probe -- which he said was expected to wrap up in a week -- centered on five deputies and two detectives, all of whom have since resigned.
Levalya Beyart of El Mirage told New Times in February that after she reported that her 13-year-old, mentally disabled daughter had apparently been raped in her home, a sheriff's deputy told her the case wasn't a priority.
Images: Jamie Peachey
That's interesting, because a former lead investigator in the misconduct probe determined early on that his three principal leads were the supervisors charged with overseeing the sex-crimes unit: Captain Steve Whitney, Lieutenant Hank Brandimarte, who were supervisors in the General Investigations Division, and then-Sergeant Kim Seagraves, who worked as the leader of the sex-crimes unit.
All three still work for the Sheriff's Office.
In 2009, Sheriff's Office documents show, Lieutenant Bruce Tucker told Hendershott that "the investigation suggested possible policy violations among Whitney, Brandimarte and Seagraves, among others..."
Despite the allegation, Seagraves was promoted to lieutenant in 2009 and made the district commander for the MCSO's Cave Creek district. Checking up today, we found that she's since been transferred to a potentially less-glamorous job in the agency's property division.
Records show that Hendershott, worried that an investigation into Seagraves might have jeopardized one of Arpaio's politically charged cases on which she was working, told Tucker to stop his internal probe on July 31, 2009.
It wasn't started again until sometime in 2011 or perhaps late 2010, after Hendershott was forced out of the Sheriff's Office for various misdeeds.
One area of the investigative report into the sex-crimes unit we'll be looking for, if the report is ever released, is how the probe's focus evolved from Tucker's three supervisors in 2009 to Sheridan's seven lower-level ex-employees by 2011.
The report is likely to be damning, negative news for Sheriff Arpaio, dredging up not only the shocking story of the twice-violated sex-crimes victims, but also of an epoch he'd like to forget -- a time in which he either directed Hendershott to do diabolical things, or didn't know what Hendershott was doing because he'd ceded control of the agency to his chief deputy.
Nothing good for Arpaio can come out of that report. Which may be why the public hasn't yet seen it.
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