Mel's Angels

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That spelled the end of Phoenix PD's involvement. No one could say why Phoenix PD failed to alert its Gilbert peers about the crimes.

Patty Lake's parents sent her to the Center Against Sexual Assault--an interesting choice because CASA is renowned for its work with victims, not offenders. Patty was both--teenage boys had sexually molested her when she was a little girl--but that raised a problem.

In those days, CASA's limited offender program was designed for children younger than 15-year-old Patty. (In mid-1995, the agency stopped accepting adolescent sex offenders for treatment.)

The agency customized a program for Patty, then counseled her for about six months before it transferred her into treatment as a victim.

Janet Brooks took her two children, Tim and Sharon, to Dr. Adele Mayer, a Mesa therapist. Sharon Brooks told Mayer about being molested by Patty. But Tim still wouldn't say much.

"There were times when he would run out of my office and climb a tree," Mayer told investigators last April. "I encouraged him to talk about this, all the reasons he should. . . . It didn't matter who he talked to as long as he took some positive action on his own behalf."

In early April 1993, about six months after the Phoenix police had closed the case, Tim Brooks had some surprising news for his therapist:

"He came in very proud that he had called the Gilbert police and reported this, and wanted something done about it," Mayer said. "He wanted [Patty] in jail."

On April 1, 1993, Tim Brooks phoned the Gilbert Police Department and said he'd been molested. Ron DeSpain, an experienced officer with a kindly demeanor, took the call.

The boy told DeSpain that Patty Lake had pinned him to a bed and performed sexual acts on him. Tim said the girl also had molested his sister, and that their mother knew about it.

"He explained to me he wanted [Patty] arrested, that he didn't want her to do this anymore to anybody," DeSpain later told county attorney's investigators. "I explained to him at that point that we would have to do an investigation and we would do the best we could for him . . ."

DeSpain asked to speak to Janet Brooks, who said that she stood by her son, but didn't believe a police investigation was necessary.

She explained how Mel McDonald had resolved the situation months earlier through Phoenix's Sue Porter, and how Porter had directed her children and Patty Lake into counseling.

The call troubled DeSpain. The Brooks children had been assaulted at their home in Gilbert, which should have left it in his agency's jurisdiction.

The officer wondered what kind of strings Mel McDonald had been pulling.
DeSpain soon sent a written account to Gilbert's detective division in which he suggested that "two sexual assaults have occurred here in Gilbert over the last two years involving [Patty Lake] and the victims."

No one at Gilbert PD took action for four days. On April 5, 1993, according to a police report, Janet Brooks called Gilbert sergeant (now lieutenant) Joe Ruet. She repeated that Phoenix already had investigated the case.

Ruet's report indicates he spoke that day to Phoenix PD's Alicia Ryberg, who confirmed that she'd interviewed Patty Lake and Tim Brooks months earlier.

Ryberg told Ruet she hadn't filed any police reports, but still had her notes if he needed to see them. Ruet said that wouldn't be necessary.

That afternoon, according to Ruet, Sue Porter called to say she'd just heard from Mel McDonald, and he was very upset.

Porter later denied this.
"I really don't recall making a phone call out there," she told investigators, "because, in my opinion, to do so would kind of make it like I was sort of trying to pull some strings with him or sway something in one direction."

McDonald recalls speaking with Sergeant Porter after he learned of Tim Brooks' call.

Ruet assigned Gilbert detective Jill Cross as the case's chief investigator. Detective Randy McLaws was to assist her.

Cross told county investigators last year that Ruet had issued some peculiar marching orders when he assigned her and McLaws to the case. "[He said] it would be best to speak at length with Mr. McDonald before pursuing the investigation further," Cross said.

As if on cue, Ruet's briefing with his detectives had been interrupted by a phone call. It was Mel McDonald, who announced he was on his way to Gilbert police headquarters.

Cross and McLaws didn't even have time to read Ron DeSpain's police report, or even to talk to DeSpain.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin