Longform

Mel's Angels

Page 6 of 8

"Or do we put it in the hands of [Mel McDonald]?" Macias shot back.
The Phoenix officers in the case, Sue Porter and Alicia Ryberg, also tried to deflect blame.

"If Gilbert felt that there was some crime that occurred in their jurisdiction that they really needed to pursue," Porter said in her interview, "then they had the opportunity to do that."

But Porter admitted that she'd been uncomfortable about the case--even if she wouldn't admit that her worst fears about it had come to pass.

"Even at the time, I felt uneasy," she said. "So I really kind of expected someone to stand up after a while and say, 'Wait a minute, you know that's not right. You know she got away with a child molest because of [Mel McDonald].' So all through the thing, we took due caution . . . to make sure that we didn't do anything or say anything especially that made it look as though, 'Well, we'll fix this for you, don't worry about it.'"

Macias and Lindley never did get to review detective Ryberg's notes on her interview with Patty Lake. The detective had left sex crimes in 1994, and had destroyed the notes.

Unlike virtually all of his colleagues with badges, Gilbert police chief Fred Dees was surprisingly candid.

"I just think there's something really basically wrong here," Dees told investigators. "It seemed like we goofed, Phoenix goofed. . . . We didn't do right by [Tim Brooks], that's for sure."

When Macias and Lindley finally interviewed Mel McDonald last February, he applied all the powers of his persuasions. He spoke with hubris and authority, as though he still were calling all the shots. It was vintage McDonald.

"I don't think anybody is seriously saying, 'Well, gee, we're going to charge [Patty] now,'" he said. "We did everything right three years ago, so that's not an option. What would there be to gain other than to spiral the family again?"

But the investigators weren't buying it.
"Well, here's the thing, Mel," Macias replied, "we do charge juveniles for what happened at that point; we do that all the time."

"You do on cases where it wasn't addressed three years ago, and this case was addressed three years ago by two different police agencies," McDonald countered, accurately. But he conspicuously failed to mention that, while the case had been addressed, it had never been properly investigated.

Last March 18, Macias and Lindley met with Janet Brooks and her ex-husband, father of Tim and Sharon.

Wrote Macias of that meeting: "I explained that, for some reason, the investigation by Phoenix PD and Gilbert PD had not followed a normal course. Mr. [Brooks] said the reason was 'obvious'--he pointed to Mr. Mel McDonald's past positions as a former U.S. Attorney, a former judge and a former prosecutor as the 'obvious' reason . . ."

Janet Brooks told Mel McDonald about the meeting. McDonald concedes that he immediately swung into action, but can't seem to recall the details.

"I don't remember if I did call Rick Romley or if I didn't call Rick Romley about this," he said in an interview. McDonald is known for his near-photographic memory, so New Times pressed him on this point.

"It's more likely that I called [Romley aide] Barnett Lotstein," he continued, "because [Mrs. Brooks] was so upset after meeting with Dorothy that she was crying uncontrollably."

Regardless of whom McDonald did or did not call, there is no doubt that Romley called Macias a few days after that meeting, and it wasn't to pat her on the back.

Macias wouldn't discuss for publication what Romley told her. She referred questions to Jim Keppel, her supervisor at the time.

"Dorothy was very mad and upset that Rick had called her," recalls Keppel, now a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. "She said he'd accused her of being rude to the [Brookses]. It felt like pressure to her. I told her to just to try to keep doing her job."

She did, apparently with no further direct feedback from Romley.
Chief deputy county attorney Paul Ahler says his boss's call wasn't designed to sway Macias, and that Romley told him he doesn't recall speaking to McDonald about the case.

"Rick approved this investigation from the start, and he never told anyone to do anything but seek the truth," Ahler says.

A call from the county attorney to a line prosecutor ordinarily wouldn't be a big deal. But Romley's call was another troubling chapter in a case riddled with improprieties and appearances of improprieties.

Mel McDonald was becoming desperate.
On April 9, 1996, McDonald went over Dorothy Macias' head with a 28-page, single-spaced missive addressed to Rick Romley, Paul Ahler, Barnett Lotstein and Jim Keppel.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin