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.
New Times cover story
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.
A few days passed, and Beyart became concerned that nobody was taking the case seriously.
She was right.
Records show that it quickly was assigned to detectives from the MCSO sex-crimes unit — who never even bothered to interview Beyart's daughter.
Beyart was given an MCSO detective's number to call. She doesn't remember his name. But she'll never forget what he told her.
The detective promised to follow up on the case but added, "This [is] not a priority," according to Beyart.
In fact, records show, there was no follow-up. Beyart remains angry and disillusioned over the treatment that she and her daughter received from Joe Arpaio's office.
"I don't know," she tells New Times. "I was really hurt. I'm not sure if it's because we are people of color. They majorly dropped the ball."
If her daughter told the truth — and Beyart believes she did — a rapist probably still is on the loose.
The lack of a criminal investigation was concerning, but Beyart's priority was her daughter. Beyart enrolled her in more therapy sessions. In the months that followed the rape, the daughter's mental state deteriorated. She "had her days and nights mixed up. She would stay in the shower for hours. She wasn't as social as she used to be. There was weight gain, depression."
Beyart cringes every time she hears another news story — and there have been many — about how Arpaio's office failed to properly investigate sex crimes.
"He allowed this to happen," Beyart says of the sheriff. "Nobody's disciplined. They're trying to cover their behinds."
Joe Arpaio, the elected head of a police agency with a $270 million budget in 2011, is responsible for the poor or nonexistent investigation of hundreds of sex crimes — and for the children and adults re-victimized by their abusers.
The sheriff admits he's to blame.
His new chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, told the public as much during a heated Board of Supervisors meeting on January 31.
"The Sheriff's Office and the sheriff have accepted responsibility," Sheridan said of the sex-abuse cases that went by the wayside.
The admission of blame through an aide was meant to assuage an outraged public. Arpaio, who's been sheriff since 1992, has defiantly resisted calls from critics and Democratic politicians to resign over the scandal.
Negative media coverage of the failure to properly investigate the sex crimes is "really hurting us as a law enforcement agency," Sheridan told the county's five Supervisors.
The irony is, three of the Supervisors had been targeted in trumped-up and now-discredited criminal investigations by Arpaio's office.
Arpaio must wonder whether the debacle will hit him where it would hurt most: at the polls this November, when voters will decide whether he gets a sixth four-year term.
The story of the bad investigations first was revealed in an article published on July 12, 2008, by the East Valley Tribune. As part of a series that would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize, the story revealed that at least 200 sex-crime cases reported to the Sheriff's Office were getting reopened after problems with the way they were handled were discovered.
The Tribune series focused on how Arpaio's enthusiasm for busting illegal immigrants was one of the prime distractions.
In December 2007, Mike Frazier, then-El Mirage police chief, sent a letter to Arpaio outlining how the failures had affected his town. Frazier, a respected Phoenix Police Department veteran, became chief in October 2007, after the end of the two-year period in which the MCSO handled the town's law enforcement duties.
Frazier wrote that a review of 51 reports of crimes assigned to Arpaio's sex-crimes division in 2006 and 2007 showed that 43 "had not been worked at all or had minimal follow-up conducted."
Frazier's letter noted that more than 90 percent of these cases had "workable leads."
A summary of the rape and molestation cases shows that most involved children or teens.
The problem with sex-crimes cases wasn't limited to El Mirage. And the problem of poorly investigated cases in El Mirage was not limited to sex crimes.
Arpaio's priorities affected crimes reported in county islands and in the seven towns served under contract by the Sheriff's Office, including Fountain Hills, Guadalupe, Gila Bend, and Cave Creek.
Media reports have shown that bad investigations occurred for aggravated assaults, armed robberies, and other violent crimes. Frazier, now police chief in Surprise, tells New Times that at least two homicides in El Mirage also were investigated poorly.
The bad police work hardly can be dismissed as a fluke.
Instead of investigating crimes and going after tens of thousands of active warrants in the county, Arpaio's troops were ordered, research shows, to spend their time busting undocumented Hispanics, training police officers in Honduras, and working on investigations of individuals whom the sheriff considered his enemies.
The sex-crimes story went no further in the press until May 2011, when the results of a massive internal investigation into corruption by Arpaio's command staff were released, adding more details to the scandal. That investigation, performed by Arpaio's political ally, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, was sparked by a 63-page tell-all memo sent to Arpaio in mid-2010 by one of his commanders, Deputy Chief Frank Munnell.
(The Babeu report, generated after months of looking into the Munnell memo, was the focus of New Times' May 26 "Joe Knew" article, about Arpaio's role in the unethical and potentially illegal tactics used against those he perceived as enemies.)
At the time, news outlets published details from the report showing how Arpaio's office reopened 432 sex-crime cases, plus other criminal cases, across Maricopa County because of worries that they hadn't been investigated sufficiently.
Babeu's probe also confirmed that Arpaio's office had stopped its own investigation into the problems out of concern that it would damage the reputation of a sex-crimes unit supervisor, which in turn might have hurt a lawsuit over a high-profile alleged public-corruption case that the MCSO had mishandled.
Still, the public didn't become inflamed over the sex-crimes cases until the nationwide publication of a December 4, 2011, article on them by Jacques Billeaud of the Associated Press.
Since then, Arizona's two U.S. senators have expressed concern about the failure, and a chorus of critics have called for Arpaio to resign. The January 31 hearing before the Board of Supervisors was packed with Arpaio supporters and critics and was punctuated by a disruptive walk-out of the meeting by dozens of people disgusted with the apparent support of the sheriff by the board and County Attorney Bill Montgomery. Only the board's lone Democrat, Mary Rose Wilcox, challenged statements by Montgomery and Sheridan that downplayed the scandal.
Despite the sheriff's public acceptance of responsibility for the problem, his office decided that the best way to deflect criticism was to heap blame on lowly subordinates. Two former detectives, James Weege and Mary Ward (who left the MCSO in 2008 and now work for the Goodyear Police Department) and their former supervisor, Kim Seagraves, are among the principals named in the MCSO's internal investigation into who gets fingered.
Yet a review of how the investigative failures occurred makes it clear that Arpaio's politically motivated, headline-grabbing investigations — combined with his choice of now-ousted Chief Deputy David Hendershott as the enforcer of his will — led directly to the office's callous treatment of some of society's most vulnerable crime victims.
In 2004, Arpaio's office employed only four detectives in a sex-crimes unit assigned to investigate rapes and molestations in the MCSO's widespread jurisdiction.
The caseload was too heavy for the few detectives to perform their work properly, and the situation didn't get much better that year, when two more detectives (including Weege) were added.
Detectives Ward and Weege (whom Goodyear's police chief publicly stands behind, despite Arpaio's attempt to smear them) wrote in a nine-page letter to Sheriff Babeu in May 2011 that "it was not uncommon for detectives to [be working on] 40 to 50 cases each," in addition to new calls they received.
In 2005, Ward, who had joined the unit in 2001, was pulled out to work on an investigation into Cactus Towing, owned by Lee Watkins. The unit was told to "do the best they could" with just five detectives.
As New Times reported on November 29, 2007 ("Enemies List"), evidence showed that the Cactus Towing case was politically motivated.
Watkins had been active in Republican politics at the time, helping various candidates, including Arpaio. But in 2004, Watkins told the sheriff he was supporting W. Steven Martin instead of Arpaio in that year's campaign.
"I guess you're going to take your chances," Watkins quoted the sheriff as telling him.
A year later, on March 31, 2005, the Sheriff's Office raided the towing company, seizing computers, $25,000 in cash, and 200 boxes of records. News reports from the time show that Arpaio had assigned 10 detectives to the towing case, which involved allegations that the company had overcharged customers.
Remember: Just five detectives were working all the sex-abuse cases in Arpaio's vast jurisdiction.
The Watkins witch hunt played well in the media, giving Arpaio his desired exposure — and revenge on the businessman who had spurned him.
No charges were filed in the case, but Watkins lost so much money that he was forced to sell his towing business.
In late 2005, El Mirage brought in the Sheriff's Office to assist a police department besieged by complaints.
Records show that the MCSO's Ken Holmes and Brian Beamish were assigned to serve as acting police chief and assistant chief, respectively, to a contingent of deputies.
"[El Mirage] just needed some help in certain areas, and one of those areas had to do with sex crimes," Holmes told Babeu's investigators in January 2011. "And what we did is, we started moving many of those cases into the county system."
Soon after Arpaio's office took charge, in early 2006, detectives in his tiny sex-crimes unit were dismayed to learn that a number of open cases would be dumped on them and that they'd be on call for new El Mirage sex-abuse cases.
The detectives were refused requests for more manpower.
Arpaio had other plans for his resources. In January 2006, sex-crimes sergeants Bruce Tucker and Kim Seagraves were summoned to Chief Deputy Hendershott's office. There, they found out that they would be investigating former county School Superintendent Sandra Dowling.
The inclusion of Seagraves in the case later would affect the way Arpaio's office dealt with the sex-crimes scandal, stalling the internal probe into the matter for more than a year.
On January 25, 2006, the county's deputy budget director, Brian Hushek, told Seagraves what the county wanted: Dowling "begging on her hands and knees" to have the Board of Supervisors help her out of her legal trouble, Seagraves told Babeu's investigators.
That night, dozens of sheriff's deputies raided Dowling's home and her county offices, carting off boxes of documents that would require heavy manpower to pore over in the coming months. Arpaio's office, naturally, tipped off the news media to the raid.
Tucker told Babeu's detectives that, when the case kicked off, "I thought this was nothing more than mismanagement [that included] a beef with somebody."
But he and others assigned to the Dowling investigation were pressed to come up with evidence that could be used for charges.
Arpaio, as New Times explained in "Joe Knew," is a consummate micro-manager of high-profile cases that will get him in the news. In later public-corruption cases that would be discredited, Arpaio reviewed a search warrant personally and demanded that more headline-grabbing material be added. The sheriff sat in on numerous strategy meetings for cases involving county officials and suggested tactics to be used in investigations, according to his own command staff.
In the Dowling case, Tucker explained to Babeu's investigators, Arpaio pressured him repeatedly to come up with a case against Keith and Tim Bee, who owned school-bus company Bee Line Transportation, which had a contract with the Maricopa school district overseen at one time by Dowling. In 2006, Tim Bee was the Republican majority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Tucker found absolutely no evidence of any crime, though.
Arpaio "kept asking me, 'Well, where are we? Are we going to get charges on the Bees?' And I said, 'No. I mean I'm working on it, but I don't see anything here,'" Tucker said to Babeu's office.
This clearly frustrated Arpaio, Tucker said.
"Then, kind of jokingly one day, [Arpaio] said, 'Well, if you get charges on them, I'll take you out . . . You get charges on Bee, I'll take you out to a steak dinner.'"
Tucker said this made him believe the Dowling case could be politically motivated.
Tucker and up to 10 deputies at a time toiled on the Dowling matter for months, eventually submitting charges to then-Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who filed 25 felony charges against Dowling in November 2006.
No criminal allegation ever was lodged against the Bees. New Times called Tim Bee, now associate vice president for government relations at the University of Arizona, and his brother, Keith, responded. The brothers didn't have any relationship with Arpaio and couldn't imagine why the sheriff would be so intent on charging them, Keith Bee says.
"I would have real concern" if Tucker's story were true, Bee says. "That's amazing!"
It should be noted that there's no record of Arpaio's offering to buy anyone a steak dinner for solving rape and molestation cases.
The Dowling charges were trumped up. Maricopa Superior Court Judge Edward Burke, concerned with the shoddy investigation by the Sheriff's Office, ruled that 10 of the charges must be reheard by a grand jury, which hadn't received all the pertinent facts in the original grand jury hearings. None of the charges was refiled.
The 10 charges had to do with the most serious allegation — that Dowling had stolen $1.8 million in public funds.
Dowling hadn't stolen the money. Rather, the Board of Supervisors was concerned that the funds, which all went to Dowling's school district, had been transferred without its authority.
Every charge against Dowling was dropped except one, a misdemeanor: hiring a relative at the school district. She pleaded guilty to the charge.
Dowling filed the first of several lawsuits against the county in December 2008 — causing the Sheriff's Office to hold off on the internal investigation into the sex-crimes fiasco out of concern that it put Dowling investigator Seagraves' reputation on the line. The former schools superintendent and the county settled three of her lawsuits in November 2009.
She then filed another suit in December 2009, claiming that her constitutional rights had were violated by the county and Arpaio's office. The case is pending.
In early 2007, Joe Arpaio approved an agreement between his office and the Central American country of Honduras to help train police officers. That year, a few dozen deputies and commanders — including Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott — spent weeks on the country's Roatan Island, a popular scuba-diving destination. At least $180,000 in public funds was used for the trips during a time of extreme budget shortfalls.
Ward and Weege wrote in their letter to Babeu that one of their supervisors, Lieutenant Hank Brandimarte, told all the MCSO sex-crimes detectives that one of them would have to "volunteer" for duty in Honduras.
"It was pointed out to Brandimarte that the unit was being inundated with cases, that we were already short [on] detectives, and that we couldn't keep up with the caseload — and that this was a foreign country," they wrote.
Nevertheless, a detective agreed to go, which further crippled the unit's ability to work rape and molestation cases. The number of full-time detectives in the sex-crimes unit was back down to four in 2007.
Also in early 2007, Arpaio and his ally, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, started a new task force that would handle cases similar to the one against Dowling. Lisa Allen, Arpaio's spokeswoman, coined the acronym "MACE," for Maricopa Anti-Corruption Enforcement.
The organization handled a few legitimate cases in 2007, but it mostly targeted Arpaio's political foes. And Thomas was more than willing to go along with the investigations.
Former Attorney General Goddard was an early MACE target, for a crime he didn't commit. The Sheriff's Office accused him of taking a payoff of $1.9 million from the state Treasurer's Office and transferring it to the Attorney General's Office in return for reducing charges against former Arizona Treasurer David Petersen, who had pleaded guilty in 2006 to knowingly filing a false or incomplete financial-disclosure statement, a misdemeanor.
In fact, the payment was mandated by state law, and Goddard personally didn't receive a penny. There was no evidence that Goddard had committed a crime, but Arpaio's office kept the investigation open for years. Arpaio's own command personnel told the sheriff about their doubts regarding the case. MACE Sergeant Brandon Luth later told Babeu's detectives that he believed Arpaio was using the Goddard investigation as "a way of having leverage over the AG's Office."
Petersen, whose case was investigated by MACE in April 2007, had been convicted of failing to disclose about $4,000 in earnings. But this wasn't anywhere near as egregious as an MCSO scheme to violate campaign-finance laws in 2007 and 2008:
Arpaio's two top men, Hendershott and Deputy Chief Larry Black, conspired to raise more than $100,000 from wealthy Arpaio supporters to secretly fund a smear ad against Arpaio's 2008 opponent, Dan Saban.
There's no reason to believe Arpaio didn't know about the plan. Days before the TV ad about Saban aired, Hendershott was "like a kid in a candy shop," telling people that something big was about to happen, Lisa Allen told investigators. From the Babeu report, it appears that all the top officials in Arpaio's headquarters on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo building in downtown Phoenix knew what was up.
Goddard's office, which had received complaints about the undercover fundraising work, conducted a criminal investigation that uncovered evidence of potential fraud, operating an illegal enterprise, and obstruction of justice. New Times detailed the case, which involved apparent corruption at both the Sheriff's Office and the state Republican Party, in an April 14 article, "Love Connection."
State Attorney General Tom Horne transferred the investigation to the U.S. Attorney's Office in early 2011. The feds have yet to charge anyone.
Under the supervision of Arpaio and Thomas, MACE plowed ahead with investigations against three county supervisors: Don Stapley, Mary Rose Wilcox, and Andy Kunasek.
The bogus charges of failing to disclose financial information against Stapley and Wilcox later were dismissed. No charges were filed against Kunasek, who was accused of wasting $14,000 in county funds to sweep for bugs believed to have been illegally planted by Arpaio's office in its war against county officials.
It appears that Thomas' underling, Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon, tried to extort Kunasek.
Thomas left office in 2009 after his unsuccessful run for state attorney general, and Aubuchon — a transcript of an interview with Kunasek shows — suggested to the supervisor that the criminal case against him would be dropped if he would agree to help pick a new county attorney acceptable to Thomas.
The State Bar of Arizona, whose disciplinary panel scrutinized Thomas and Aubuchon's role in MACE cases, is considering whether they should be disbarred.
Arpaio, Thomas, and their former employees remain under investigation by federal authorities on allegations of abuse of power, most of which have to do with their conduct as the heads of MACE.
Before MACE, Thomas and Arpaio didn't always see eye to eye, especially on illegal immigration.
Thomas had campaigned on the issue before getting elected in 2004. But in August 2005, following the passage of an Arizona law that made it a state crime to smuggle immigrants, Arpaio told the Arizona Republic, "I want the authority to lock up smugglers, but I am not going to lock up illegals hanging around street corners. I'm not going to waste my resources going after a guy in a truck when he picks up five illegals to go trim palm trees."
However, seeing that Thomas had public support for his anti-illegal-immigrant ideas, Arpaio changed his stance. Thomas interpreted the 2005 law to mean that average illegal immigrants — not just smugglers — could be charged with conspiracy to smuggle themselves into the country.
Arpaio allied with Thomas and began hunting all undocumented Mexicans. By mid-2006, Arpaio was using hundreds of deputies and volunteer posse members to arrest illegal immigrants, who then would be charged with conspiracy by Thomas.
No other Arizona county sheriff or county attorney felt this tack was appropriate. (New County Attorney Bill Montgomery has continued to accept such cases.)
In July 2007, Arpaio set up a hotline that citizens could use to tattle on illegal immigrants.
By then, Arpaio had diverted a massive amount of his office's resources toward busting illegal immigrants.
In another far cry from the four or five detectives assigned to investigate sex crimes countywide, Arpaio's office ultimately put 100 deputies through weeks of training to become cross-certified federal immigration agents. The deputies then proceeded to do exactly what Arpaio said in 2005 he wouldn't do — bust average migrants.
Undocumented housecleaners and landscapers driving pickups with cracked windshields became a priority. In September 2007, dozens of deputies and detectives were assigned to a sting that resulted in the arrest of 18 undocumented street-corner tamale vendors.
In the same month, Arpaio began the first of his immigrant roundups, which he called "crime sweeps." That October, just before the contract between El Mirage and the Sheriff's Office ended, Arpaio sent 100 deputies and posse members to the town for a sweep that netted eight illegal immigrants.
Also around that time, Arpaio dedicated numerous deputies and about $300,000 in public funds for a three-episode reality show called Smile . . . You're Under Arrest, starring him and his agency.
Meanwhile, hundreds of rape and child-molestation cases got scant attention from Arpaio's handful of sex-crimes deputies.
About two years after the Sheriff's Office took over in El Mirage, the town decided to "take back" the police department.
The idea was to have the MCSO relinquish control by late spring 2008. But hearing that his services no longer were wanted in El Mirage, Arpaio pulled the plug on the cooperative agreement in October 2007.
Following that, during a sex-crimes unit staff meeting, Lieutenant Hank Brandimarte told Sergeant Kim Seagraves that all El Mirage cases would be returned to the town, whether they were finished or not, according to Mary Ward and James Weege's letter.
The sex-crimes detectives were given a "short time frame" in which to summarize what had been done on the outstanding cases and what still needed to be done.
"After the cases were [put together for transfer back], they sat on a conference table at MCSO for about a month, with no one working them," Ward and Weege wrote.
Finally, the boxes of reports were driven to El Mirage.
A few weeks later, Arpaio's executive chief, Scott Freeman, got a call from Mike Frazier, who'd been hired as the new police chief in the West Valley town.
"Hey, what I got was a bunch of crap," Freeman recalled Frazier saying, according to the Babeu report.
As Frazier remembers it, his language was even more colorful. He and his staff were stunned when they reviewed the cases.
"You could look at them and tell no work had been done," he says.
MCSO Captain Steve Whitney, Brandimarte's supervisor, offered to take back the poorly investigated cases, but Frazier declined, preferring to have his own office review them. Frazier and his department soon realized that though some of the cases weren't solid, many others were.
"A lot of people had continued to be victims," Frazier says.
Frazier sent a written complaint to Arpaio.
MCSO officials soon realized they had a major situation on their hands.
At first, Brandimarte was told to check on the problem.
But Seagraves and Ward didn't want Brandimarte investigating the sex-crimes unit because (it later was affirmed) he had sexually harassed them. The women filed a complaint against him, and the inquiry into the sex-crimes unit — and the sex-crimes cases themselves — stalled for months.
Two investigations eventually came about: The first was a "remedial" probe intended to fix outstanding cases and solve problems that resulted in minimal police work. The second was the internal inquiry aimed at assigning blame for the situation.
Neither investigation actually began until mid-May 2008, more than six months after Frazier's complaint.
One consequence was that the sex-crimes unit fell even further behind on its work from the end of the El Mirage contract until late summer 2008.
As Weege and Ward describe it, their captain informed the unit that it would be required to help with an audit of older cases but it still would be responsible for ongoing cases and call-outs on new crimes.
With the unit still minimally staffed, another supervisor said some of the detectives would be tasked with an important new assignment. This was soon after then-Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon had criticized Arpaio's sweeps and accused the Sheriff's Office of racial profiling.
A young political opponent of Gordon's, Jarrett Maupin, told the MCSO that Gordon had been involved in a sexual relationship with a man. The allegation proved to be false, but the MCSO made the investigation a priority.
The unit was informed that its members would get overtime pay to work the case.
"Detectives expressed their concerns that this appeared to be politically motivated and [that] they weren't comfortable being involved in it," Ward and Weege wrote in their letter. "Detectives made comments about the absurdity of the Gordon investigation and the irony that they could get overtime for this, but not for child interviews."
Detective Weege wrote that he refused Lugo's request to run criminal background checks on Gordon's staff for a "maybe" crime — that such activity might constitute illegal use of law enforcement computers. Lugo, according to Weege, said he would find somebody else to do it.
Maupin later pleaded guilty to a charge of false reporting.
In mid-August, because of a "hostile work environment" and stress, Ward and Weege resigned from the MCSO. They had no idea at the time that they were targeted in the internal investigation into the sex-crimes mess.
After they left, they were told by a deputy that supervisors in the office had talked of serving search warrants on their homes. Their offices at the MCSO were "taped off as if they were crime scenes," they later learned.
The Sheriff's Office — rather than admit that the debacle with the sex-abuse cases was caused by Arpaio's politically self-serving decisions on where to expend resources — decided the lowly detectives would be scapegoated.
The "remedial" investigation by the Sheriff's Office resulted in the reopening of 432 cases considered potentially problematic. It's unclear how many of these are El Mirage cases.
"They went back, reopened cases, re-did interviews, re-did search warrants, made arrests, " MCSO Executive Chief Freeman told Babeu's investigators, adding that he transferred five or six detectives into the sex-crimes unit to help.
But the extra manpower came too late for many abuse victims.
In at least one case reviewed by New Times, it's clear that crimes occurred after an initial report was sent to MCSO detectives.
After a father was accused of beating his 12-year-old boy in late 2005, sheriff's detectives received the case but did not investigate. State Child Protective Services contacted the Sheriff's Office about the case the following year, forwarding tape-recorded interviews as evidence. One of the tapes contained an allegation that an 8-year-old girl in the same household had been sexually abused, but, again, no follow-up was done.
A report on the case, forwarded in April 2006 by CPS, details an allegation that both of the boy's parents had threatened to kill him, holding a knife to his throat and beating him with a stick. CPS noted that an examination of the boy's shoulder blade showed an unhealed fracture.
The sex-crimes unit gave back the file to El Mirage police in August 2007, "with apparently no work having been done." The case still is active.
In other cases, it's possible that more abuse occurred after the MCSO took a case — or, at the least, that swift investigation would have led to arrests.
One example: A mom took her three girls, ages 4 to 10, to a medical center in June 2007 after they'd complained of vaginal burning. "The victims reported that their live-in step-grandfather — identity known — had touched their vaginas and inserted his fingers on multiple occasions," a police report states.
By December 2007, the case still hadn't been worked.
A few months later, Bruce Tucker, the former Dowling investigator, was assigned the internal sex-crimes probe. Then, after working on it for more than a year, he was assigned by MCSO Chief Deputy Hendershott to work with the sheriff's private lawyer, Dennis Wilenchik, on the defense against Dowling's lawsuits.
As Tucker and Hendershott drove from Wilenchik's office on July 31, the chief deputy told Tucker he didn't want anything to interfere with work on the Dowling suits. Since Sergeant Seagraves was a principal in Tucker's probe into the sex-crimes unit, Tucker was ordered to stop work on it.
It's unclear what Sheriff Arpaio knew about the stalled investigation, but he and Hendershott had near-daily briefings.
The investigation into who gets blamed for the sex-crimes debacle might have been put off forever. But in September 2010, Deputy Chief Frank Munnell, interviewed by the Attorney General's Office for its criminal investigation into the aforementioned campaign-finance scandal, dropped his bombshell memo.
The Munnell memo and the resulting investigation by Paul Babeu's office provided many new details on how Arpaio's office had messed up the sex-crimes cases. In addition, a staggering amount of corruption in the MCSO was revealed. The sheriff had no choice but to fire two of his most trusted aides, Hendershott and Deputy Chief Larry Black, for a raft of well-publicized ethical and potentially criminal violations.
Famously, he claimed he had been "duped" by Hendershott.
Now, Arpaio claims he was duped by his sex-crimes unit, which supposedly should have worked harder despite the minuscule resources he'd provided.
The Sheriff's Office has yet to reveal details of its investigation into the sex-crimes debacle, but the public soon should learn more about the scandal. Because of the Munnell memo, the internal investigation was restarted sometime in 2011.
At the January 31 hearing before the Board of Supervisors, Deputy Chief Sheridan said at least 10,000 pages of material from the long-running probe were under review by the County Attorney's Office.
Sheridan downplayed the enormity of the problem, claiming that only 15 sex-crimes cases countywide — not including the El Mirage cases — hadn't been investigated.
It's difficult to believe Sheridan's figure, considering the scope of the scandal in just El Mirage, where serious problems were noted with 43 of 51 cases assigned to the sex-crimes unit.
Whatever the real story, efforts supposedly are under way by both the Sheriff's Office and the El Mirage Police Department to shore up badly investigated cases. So far, officials say, 19 reopened cases have resulted in prosecutions, though they haven't divulged which cases they are.
Sheridan claims that new policies and training procedures have been put in place "so the problem does not surface again."
But Arpaio and the public have not heard the last of the sex-crimes mess.
In December, the U.S. Department of Justice issued findings in a long-running civil investigation of the MCSO, claiming that Arpaio's department has discriminated against Hispanics and committed the "most egregious case" of racial profiling in U.S. law enforcement history. A report on the findings says the Justice Department still is examining whether the failure to investigate sex crimes was because of Arpaio's "culture of bias" against Hispanics.
The Justice Department also still is probing criminal allegations that Arpaio abused his power.
Now, with all his baggage, Arpaio has entered campaign mode, hoping to ride out the criticism and — at 80 years old — get re-elected to another four-year term.
"I've been praying for a phone call like this," a woman in Chicago tells New Times.
The woman is the mother of a 13-year-old girl who claimed that she'd been molested repeatedly by her father in 2006.
When the girl was 8, she was sent to California to live with her grandmother during the contentious divorce of her El Mirage parents. There, she said her "daddy did something bad to her," her grandmother told authorities. The grandmother called El Mirage police in August 2006, reporting that the girl said she had been sexually abused for about two years.
The case was forwarded to Arpaio's Special Victims Unit. A week later, a caseworker from California CPS phoned MCSO Detective Chad Brackman to say she had "useful information" about the matter after talking to the grandmother. MCSO sex-crimes Detective John Felbab was assigned the case, "but very little was done," El Mirage police later wrote in a report. "[Felbab] conducted a minimal amount of follow-up."
The last action the Sheriff Office took was to interview the girl in February 2007.
It would have been easy to find the suspect — he was convicted in November 2006 of robbery and was serving a three-year sentence in an Arizona prison. But the man never was interviewed about the crime.
El Mirage police wrote that no explanation exists for why the case wasn't worked or submitted to the County Attorney's Office. "This was clearly a prosecutable case," El Mirage police wrote.
In November 2007, El Mirage detectives could not locate the victim, her mother, or the grandmother. They contacted Arizona CPS and "obtained nothing to go on." The case is considered active.
The girl's mother says she can't comprehend why police dropped the case. The girl was interviewed by experts several times, and they concluded she was telling the truth. But she says a Sheriff's Office detective told her that the case never would stand up in court, "that it was my daughter's word against [her assailant's]. They said they didn't want to put her through it."
Yet the girl and mother still are ready to testify, the woman tells New Times. The woman's phone number was passed along to El Mirage police at her request.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Asked whether she thought it was possible that her ex-husband could commit a similar crime, she replied, "If he did it to his own daughter, why couldn't he do it to somebody else?"
Pursuing such a sex-abuse investigation — after 5 1/2 years of inactivity — won't win Arpaio the kind of headlines he craves.
Which could explain why a teenage girl in Chicago still is seeking justice.
UPDATE: The investigation into the bad investigations was overseen by MCSO Executive Chief Brian Sands. Although numerous screw-ups by several employees were revealed, Sands concluded that no single person was responsible for the "systemic failure." No one was disciplined. Sands retired in August of 2013. In his 2014 book, Arpaio De Facto Lawman, Sands writes that he wanted to have Deputy Chief Scott Freeman disciplined, but that Arpaio wanted the matter dropped. The book also states that Arpaio wanted Sands to delay the completion of the investigation until after the 2012 election. The investigation was finished after the election, but Sands says he didn't intentionally delay it.
UPDATE: The investigation into the bad investigations was overseen by then-MCSO Executive Chief Brian Sands. Although numerous screw-ups by several employees were revealed, Sands concluded that no single person was responsible for the "systemic failure." No one was disciplined. Sands retired in August 2013. In his 2014 book, Arpaio De Facto Lawman, Sands writes that he wanted to have Deputy Chief Scott Freeman disciplined, but that Arpaio wanted the matter dropped.The book also states that Arpaio wanted Sands to delay the completion of the investigation until after the 2012 election. The investigation was finished after the election, but Sands says he didn't intentionally delay it.