On November 2, 2007, career Phoenix cop Bill Louis was feted at a retirement ceremony in downtown Phoenix. Assistant Chief Louis was leaving the big-city agency after almost 31 years to join longtime PPD colleague Mike Frazier in El Mirage, the then-rapidly growing West Valley community near Luke Air Force Base.
Frazier was taking over as El Mirage's police chief and Louis already had signed on to be his assistant chief in the aftermath of the town's decision to terminate its two-year contract with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Officials from several law enforcement agencies attended the event and lauded Louis — a consummate pro who had overseen the twin serial-murderer investigations (dubbed the Baseline Killer and Serial Shooters) that had haunted Phoenix and the rest of the Valley in 2005-06.
As Louis recalls in his just-released book, If There Were Any Victims . . ., Sheriff Joe Arpaio's longtime number-two guy, David Hendershott, handed him a plaque signed by Arpaio after saying a few nice words.
Then, as everyone applauded, Hendershott (then still years from getting fired by Arpaio) whispered in Louis' ear.
"El Mirage?" Hendershott said. "What the fuck are you thinking?"
A few weeks after this, Louis began to learn more about what had happened during the MCSO's short reign in El Mirage than he ever could have imagined.
"It was like a Twilight Zone episode," the Phoenix native tells New Times.
"What we learned was that Arpaio and his people had been spending so much time on getting publicity for his so-called 'illegal-immigration' publicity routine that [the MCSO] had mishandled — really screwed the pooch on — dozens of potential sex-crimes cases that just disappeared. It was beyond my comprehension, and it was repulsive to me both as a police officer and as a human being."
Within about a year after chiefs Frazier and Louis (and onetime PPD homicide detective Jerry Laird) moved to El Mirage, two newspapers — the East Valley Tribune and the Arizona Republic — published exposés on the sex-crimes scandal and subsequent attempts at a cover-up by the MCSO (the Trib won a Pulitzer for its efforts).
The news accounts, which mostly were based on public records provided by the El Mirage Police Department, noted that upwards of 400 cases were "mishandled" by the Sheriff's Office, including dozens of sex-related incidents that received scant, if any, investigation by sheriff's detectives.
The sheriff vowed to "get to the bottom of any allegations" with an internal affairs investigation, a probe whose results, if any, never have been publicly revealed. Arpaio's slippery promise satisfied most media, swayed as they were by the MCSO's shape-shifting public relations teams to focus attention on "immigration sweeps."
Perhaps in another time and another place, the El Mirage fiasco surely would have at least spelled the political end of the man ultimately responsible, Sheriff Arpaio.
But he has proved more Teflon than Teflon itself.
Arpaio won re-election to a fourth four-year term in November 2008.
"He all but turned his back on investigating serious crimes and focused heavily on 'immigration enforcement,'" Chief Louis writes in his book. "As a result, many crime victims within his county were neglected, and countless offenders escaped justice."
Late last year, Associated Press reporter Jacques Billeaud revisited the mess in El Mirage, and the resulting stories ignited the still-simmering situation.
Chief Louis retired in October 2010, in part because of nagging medical issues, but was one of many on-the-record sources for the AP series (Chief Frazier moved to Surprise as its chief in early 2011).
Last December 5, Arpaio was forced to call a press conference to respond to the firestorm wrought by the chilling allegations in the AP articles. The sheriff at first seemed to concede that his agency had failed badly to bring a host of alleged sex perverts to justice.
But Arpaio couldn't help himself.
"If there were any victims . . . I apologize," the sheriff blurted in his trademark blend of cynicism and bluster, which his many supporters seem to equate with toughness.
Arpaio then added, "If there were any," spitting out the word "if" with obvious disdain.
Bill Louis says he was watching the press conference on TV at his home in Peoria.
"It pissed me off so bad that I didn't know what to do or say," he recalls. "Joe Arpaio knew — and knows — what happened out there, and he uses the word 'if'? He's not tough on crime. There's a bunch of assholes who would be in prison right now if Joe Arpaio were tough on crime. What he's tough on is his political enemies and on Mexican gardeners and people who wash shirts for a living. He's much more than just an 'embarrassment' to law enforcement. He's a totally political beast who gets to wear a badge and call himself sheriff."