Critics: 'Tough' sheriff botched sex-crime cases
The 13-year-old girl opened the door of her home in this small city on the edge of Phoenix to encounter a man who said that his car had broken down and he needed to use the phone. Once inside, the man pummeled the teen from behind, knocking her unconscious and sexually assaulting her.
Seven months before, in an apartment two miles away, another 13-year-old girl was fondled in the middle of the night by her mother's live-in boyfriend. She woke up in her room at least twice a week to find him standing over her, claiming to be looking for her mother's cell phone.
Both cases were among more than 400 sex-crimes reported to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office during a three-year period ending in 2007 — including dozens of alleged child molestations — that were inadequately investigated and in some instances were not worked at all, according to current and former police officers familiar with the cases.
In El Mirage alone, where Arpaio's office was providing contract police services, officials discovered at least 32 reported child molestations — with victims as young as 2 years old — where the sheriff's office failed to follow through, even though suspects were known in all but six cases.
Many of the victims, said a retired El Mirage police official who reviewed the files, were children of illegal immigrants.
The botched sex-crimes investigations have served as an embarrassment to a department whose sheriff is the self-described "America's Toughest Sheriff" and a national hero to conservatives on the immigration issue.
Arpaio's office refused several requests over a period of months to answer questions about the investigations and declined a public records request for an internal affairs report, citing potential disciplinary actions.
Brian Sands, a top sheriff's official who is in charge of the potential discipline of any responsible employees, was later made available to talk about the cases. He declined to say why they weren't investigated. "There are policy violations that have occurred here," Sands said. "It's obvious, but I can't comment on who or what."
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