Victims Wonder Why Arpaio Let Sex-Abuse Cases Languish

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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.

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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