While Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been busy arresting Latino car-wash workers and hapless mothers at roadblocks in his Ahab-like pursuit of undocumented immigrants, he's also been looking the other way when it comes to rape and other sex crimes, and letting criminals escape justice.
It's not exactly news that Arpaio's anti-immigrant fetish (not to mention his publicity-hound style) has meant that other kinds of crime in Maricopa County have not received the full attention of the Sheriff's Office. But now it's produced a particularly ugly and telling twist:
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crime cases, including dozens in El Mirage, over a two-year period because of poor oversight and former Chief Deputy David Hendershott's desire to protect a key investigator from bad publicity, according to documents pertaining to a recent internal investigation released by the Sheriff's Office.
The errors led to interminable delays for victims of serious crimes who waited years for the attackers to be brought to justice, if they were ever caught.
More than 50 El Mirage sex-crime cases, most involving young children reportedly victimized by friends or family, went uninvestigated after police took an initial report. The lack of oversight was so widespread in El Mirage that it affected other cases: roughly 15 death investigations, some of them homicides with workable leads, were never presented to prosecutors, and dozens of robberies and auto-theft cases never led to arrests.
Concern about the handling of the cases dates back several years. However, a recently concluded investigation by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu revealed that an internal probe to get to the root of the problem was blocked by Hendershott two years ago because it would have reflected poorly on an investigator he considered crucial to a separate case.
Hendershott, according to investigators, killed the internal probe to protect Sgt. Kim Seagraves, because she was potentially needed to testify in a corruption case he was pushing.
The Pinal County investigation not only found fault in the El Mirage case, but it illustrated a larger problem with agency investigations.
"It wasn't just El Mirage PD cases," Deputy Chief Scott Freeman told Pinal County investigators. "As they started to look into that, they found that there were a lot of cases that hadn't been worked properly, hundreds of cases."
The Sheriff's Office would not comment on the mishandled investigations, which are the subject of an ongoing internal probe that began after Hendershott was placed on administrative leave last fall.
This reflects something the conservative Goldwater Institute reported three years ago:
The Maricopa County Sheriff ’s Office is responsible for vitally important law-enforcement functions in one of the largest counties in the nation. It defines its core missions as law-enforcement services, support services, and detention.
MCSO falls seriously short of fulfilling its mission in all three areas. Although MCSO is adept at self-promotion and is an unquestionably “tough” law-enforcement agency, under its watch violent crime rates recently have soared, both in absolute terms and relative to other jurisdictions. It has diverted resources away from basic law-enforcement functions to highly publicized immigration sweeps, which are ineffective in policing illegal immigration and in reducing crime generally, and to extensive trips by MCSO officials to Honduras for purposes that are nebulous at best. Profligate spending on those diversions helped produce a financial crisis in late 2007 that forced MCSO to curtail or reduce important law-enforcement functions.
In terms of support services, MCSO has allowed a huge backlog of outstanding warrants to accumulate, and has seriously disadvantaged local police departments by closing satellite booking facilities. MCSO’s detention facilities are subject to costly lawsuits for excessive use of force and inadequate medical services. Compounding the substantive problems are chronically poor record-keeping and reporting of statistics, coupled with resistance to public disclosure.
Our focus in this paper is exclusively on effective law-enforcement. We find that MCSO’s effectiveness has been compromised for the past several years by misplaced priorities that have diverted it from its mission.
Now the community group Living United for Change in Arizona, better known as LUCHA, has launched an online petition calling for the Maricopa County Attorney to investigate and Sheriff Joe Arpaio to resign.
The petition states: “$100 Million ‘Misspent’ and 400 Uninvestigated Sex Crimes…End the Corruption and Abuses Now!”
In the body of the petition it reads, “On Sheriff Joe’s watch, 400 sex crimes against CHILDREN went uninvestigated. Victims—children from 2 to 16 years old—were not helped and sexual predators were left unchecked, free to abuse more children.”
Monica Sandschafer of LUCHA wrote in an e-mail, “Sheriff Joe Arpaio stood by and let these children and women be abused. By not investigating the crimes against these 400 people, he sent a message to all predators that Maricopa County is a "sanctuary" for them."
You can read the full report on the independent investigation into Arpaio's office by Pinal County here. The report also revealed that Dave Hendershott used his power to intimidate Arpaio's political foes on the County Supervisors' board and elsewhere.