Victims Wonder Why Arpaio Let Sex-Abuse Cases Languish

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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.

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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.
Contact: Ray Stern