Longform

Victims Wonder Why Arpaio Let Sex-Abuse Cases Languish

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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.

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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