Victims Wonder Why Arpaio Let Sex-Abuse Cases Languish

Late 2005 to October 2007 was not a good time to be raped or molested in El Mirage.

During that time, the town had signed a contract to pay the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office $3.6 million for police services. But Sheriff Joe Arpaio didn't use the money to bolster his sex-crimes unit. Instead, the publicity-hungry sheriff's focus, as always, was on political witch hunts and pet projects that got his name in lights.

Victims of sex crimes — mostly children — in the town and throughout the county still are paying for Arpaio's misguided policies. Rapists and child molesters got away with their crimes.

On August 23, 2006, for example, Francisca Vasquez called El Mirage police to report that her 26-year-old cousin had impregnated her 13-year-old daughter. The police agency had retained some of its own police officers even as the Sheriff's Office provided detectives, deputies, and an administrative staff for the town — and one of these municipal officers rolled out to the family's home at 13810 North Alto Street.

Vasquez and a male friend stood in the front yard, hugging a crying girl. The girl, who was 12 when she'd had sex with the older man, said she hadn't mentioned the encounter earlier because she was afraid of her mom's cousin.

The suspect recently had moved to Tennessee to work, and the family was confident they'd be able to help track him down.

The El Mirage officer recorded interviews with the family and impounded them into evidence. The routine at that time, because of the MCSO contract, was to turn over such a case to Arpaio's Special Victims Unit, also called the sex-crimes unit.

You'd think such a case would be easily solved with a paternity test.

But the case wasn't worked by Arpaio's officers and was returned to El Mirage after the town ended its contract with the MCSO in October 2007.

El Mirage Detective Hector Encinas, one of the officers assigned to review dozens of similar cases, went to the address in April 2008 but found that the family had moved. Neighbors didn't know where they were. The case was closed.

On March 1, 2007, an 11-year-old girl at El Mirage Elementary School told friends that her grandmother's live-in boyfriend had sexually assaulted her two years earlier, when she was 9.

Her horrified friends spilled the story to a tutor, who told the principal. A school counselor interviewed the girl before calling police.

The girl recalled awakening one night to find her grandmother's boyfriend standing next to her, dressed only in boxer shorts. He walked out of the room, then came back fully naked "and attempted to put his penis in her mouth," according to the police report.

An additional summary report compiled by El Mirage police in December 2008 states that on different occasions, "other sex crimes [against the girl by the same man] may have occurred."

The case was assigned to the MCSO sex-crimes unit, where it languished. It was put on permanent hold by El Mirage in 2008 after police couldn't find the family. Had the numerous leads been followed quickly, the assailant might well be behind bars now.

Such cases aren't always clear-cut. Victims sometimes don't tell the truth. But serious allegations of violent crimes must be investigated, for the safety of the community. And under Joe Arpaio's watch, that seldom was the case with sex crimes.

Levalya Beyart, a social worker and single mother who wanted her name used in this article, remembers the horror she felt when she opened the front door of her modest home in a gated community in El Mirage on July 11, 2007.

Her mentally challenged 13-year-old daughter, who had been home alone, was "walking around in a daze," she told New Times.

The girl was naked from the waist down, and her body was scratched and bruised.

The living room was "torn up," says Beyart. "You could tell there had been some kind of struggle."

At first, she thought her daughter might have suffered a "flashback" to sexual abuse by a family member more than a year earlier.

But after Beyart got the girl to calm down, her daughter told a story that "sounded believable" to the mother.

Beyart's daughter said a stranger had come to the door in the afternoon, begging to use the phone because his car had broken down. She let him in, and he attacked and raped her.

Beyart phoned police and reported the incident, records show. She says an El Mirage officer showed up at her home and drove the mother and daughter to a crisis center in Glendale, where a nurse conducted a forensic exam.

Some blood was found on the girl's genitals, but the nurse believed it was possibly because the teen was beginning her first period. Only the theory wasn't correct, because the girl didn't start menstruating until months later.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.