Laurie Roberts' Columns & Blog | Source: AZCentral.com
A 15-year-old girl bursts into an El Mirage store and reports that she’s just been raped by two men in a nearby ditch. A 9 year old tells a school counselor that her grandmother’s boyfriend comes into her room at night and molests her as she tries to sleep.
A 13 year old opens the door to a man whose car had supposedly broken down. He knocks the girl out and sexually assaults her.
In each case, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was called to investigate. In every one, the “investigation” ended with that call.
They are among 432 sex crimes reported to the sheriff’s office between 2005 and 2007. Reported and …
No investigation, no arrests, no justice.
It's a been a rough year for America's most dumbfounded sheriff, what with rogue operations, misspent funds and $177 million in lawsuits. And now, national headlines about bungled investigations into sex crimes against victims as young as two years old.
On Monday, Sheriff Joe Arpaio held a press conference to offer up what apparently passes for an apology in Joeland.
“If there were any victims,” he said, “I apologize to those victims.”
If there were any victims?
If there was any accountability, we would know the details of how and why Arpaio’s office ignored reports of serious crimes while the sheriff spent years running around the county, talking tough and arresting illegal immigrants in order to get on the evening news.
Something more, that is, than the explanation offered by Arpaio’s new chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan.
"Once initial information came out, detectives decided not to follow up,” Sheridan said at Monday’s mea culpa, adding that disciplinary action could come later this week.
That would be well over three years after these cases first came to light. In fact, they’ve been written about locally several times. The East Valley Tribune, as part of its 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning series on Arpaio, wrote about dozens of cases that went uninvestigated. In May, The Republic and others reported that there were 432 botched sex-crime cases and that then-Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott had blocked an internal investigation to protect a sergeant involved in one of his famed corruption probes.
The bungling became national news on Sunday, when the Associated Press ran a story that was picked up across the country, prompting Arpaio’s pseudo apology.
The second of two halfhearted apologies in one week, as it turns out.
Last week Arpaio issued a bizarre letter of recommendation for Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson. Yeah, the same Sandi Wilson whom he accused of civil racketeering a few years ago. (The RICO suit was withdrawn, to widespread chortling and general all-around shock that it was filed in the first place). The same one he tried to indict for using public funds to sweep county offices for bugs. (The grand jury refused to indict.)
Now Arpaio writes that Wilson is “a valuable asset, competent and professional.”
"That's not an apology letter -- no way," Arpaio told The Republic’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez. "I just appreciate what she's doing."
Wilson is among several current and former county employees who are suing us for $177 million – the only actual outcome of Arpaio’s and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas’ probe into county corruption. Wilson has said she’d settle for an apology. This, apparently, is as good as it gets.
The victims whose rapes and molestations went uninvestigated didn’t get much better.
Of the 432 botched cases, Arpaio’s detectives were able to go back and make only 19 arrests. Another 116 were declared unfounded and 67 were classified as “cold cases” (cold, as in ice age). Meanwhile, 221 were “exceptionally” cleared, which is code for we can’t solve them but we’re going to close them anyway to boost our clearance rates.
Rep. Raul Grijalva -- he of boycott Arizona fame -- has called on Arpaio to resign. He might as well save his breath.
The more likely response will be an immigration sweep. There is nothing, after all, like a good immigration sweep to take the Go-Joe faithful’s minds off of headlines of mismanagement and outright corruption in the sheriff's office.
And now, of 432 potential sex crimes ignored.
Among them, a 2 year old taken to the hospital with vaginal pain and bruising after a stint with a babysitter. And three sisters, ages 4 to 10, who did what children should do when perverts put their fingers in places they don’t belong. They told.
And it didn’t make a darned bit of difference. The cases were assigned to the sheriff's Special Victim Unit, where they proceeded to sit on a shelf and collect dust.
Recently, Arpaio told me that he plans to run for a sixth term next year, when he is 80 years old, and he expects to win. Every Republican presidential candidate courted him for an endorsement, he pointed out. And everywhere he goes people want to pose with him for pictures.
"Nothing,” he told me, “is going to change."
That’s what I’m afraid of.
(Column published Dec. 7, 2011, The Arizona Republic).