Victims Wonder Why Arpaio Let Sex-Abuse Cases Languish

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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.

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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