PHOENIX - UPDATE: MCSO speaks out about ignored sex crimes
An ABC15 investigation reveals children who had the courage to come forward and say they were molested, raped or abused were simply ignored by Maricopa County Sheriff's Office detectives.
These are the worst of the worst cases -- children brutally victimized by sex offenders -- monsters still on the loose.
According to police reports we’ve obtained, victims were denied justice when Maricopa County sex crimes detectives never even bothered to investigate dozens of cases. Of those cases, we found the following:
- The children who were victimized were never interviewed.
- Witnesses were never questioned.
- Evidence was never collected.
- Child sex offenders were never arrested.
This is a story about young victims who may still be in danger. According to MCSO’s own internal investigation, as many as 400 sex crimes cases countywide may have been botched.
The detectives responsible were never held accountable. Their boss has declined to answer questions about what happened and why.
ABC15 OBTAINED SEX CRIME CASE REVIEWS
Reading through police reviews of the specific cases in question is difficult and the details are disturbing.
Case after case involves children, some as young as 3, who said they were molested and simply ignored.
They lived in El Mirage at a time when the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office had a contract to handle the city’s sex crimes cases.
El Mirage Detective Robert Peoples explained, “Maricopa County Sheriff's department was actually running the city for El Mirage at that time and we came in and started our own police department and started restructuring.”
In October 2007, on the last weekend of MCSO’s contract to handle sex crime investigations with the city of El Mirage, Sheriff Joe Arpaio told us, “We gave them good service here the last 2 years”.
But that is not what the record reflects. As El Mirage began to review MCSO’s case files, they discovered that dozens of sex crime investigations “hadn’t been worked”.
We reviewed dozens of these documents that describe cases that had not been worked.
MCSO FILES: “A BUNCH OF CRAP”
The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office recently conducted an administrative investigation into allegations of misconduct at MCSO.
Buried in a report of more than 1,000 pages are the details of how former El Mirage Police Chief Mike Frazier reacted when he reviewed MCSO’s files and learned how many cases had never been worked by Arpaio's detectives.
Frasier called MCSO and said, "Hey, what I got was a bunch of crap".
What he got was evidence that not only were there dozens of cases that were never worked---some case files were lost.
El Mirage Detective Robert Peoples said, “so we were left trying to contact victims, witnesses, to see if any of the cases were solvable.”
JUSTICE DENIED: DISTURBING DETAILS
ABC15 obtained copies of some of the records El Mirage Police are now trying to use to get justice for many young victims.
In a case from June 2007, the victims were three little girls ages 4, 6 and 10. Three children had the courage to come forward. The document states:
“All victims complaining of vaginal burning. Mother took them to the medical center. The victims reported that their live-in step-grandfather (identity known) had touched their vaginas and inserted his fingers on multiple occasions."
There were also these words we saw on many reports: "Assigned to MCSO SVU, but apparently was not worked.”
El Mirage police tried to follow-up on a case that was botched by MCSO, but they couldn't get in touch with the mother of the victims.
“The whereabouts of the victim or her family are unknown at this time,” the report showed.
Eventually El Mirage police tracked down the mother who told them, “She no longer wanted to pursue the case.”
ONE OF THE CASES THAT COULD HAVE BEEN SOLVED
Another case from August 2007 describes a 2-year-old victim “taken to the hospital due to vaginal pain, bruises, and signs of molestation. That day she had been with the baby-sitter—adult male (identity known) with history of self-proclaimed child molesting.”
Again, the records ABC15 obtained indicate, “The case was assigned to MCSO SVU, but apparently was not worked.”
Detective Peoples said those two cases represent some of the hurdles their detectives now face as they try to follow-up on cases MCSO was supposed to handle, some dating back to 2005.
“The time had gone by, the people had either moved, or they didn't want to go further with the investigations because either their child or themselves had gone through therapy or some kind of counseling and they didn't want to bring this back up. But the main thing is trying to find those people because they had pretty much already moved out of the city,” said Detective Peoples.
We ran into the same problem. We tried to track down more than a dozen victims.
When we would arrive at an address, we would find vacant homes or new tenants.
EXPERT: VICTIMS WERE RE-VICTIMIZED BY MCSO
Ditlevson is the Deputy Director for the Arizona Coalition against Domestic Violence. She told us, “These people were victimized in a really deep, intimate and violating way and then were re-victimized when the system ignored them.”
Ditlevson explained how sex crimes are particularly difficult.
“Less than 40% of sexual assault victims come forward for a lot of reasons because they are ashamed, they don't think anyone will believe them, its a friend or family member who committed the assault and so there are a lot of confusing emotions around that.”
El Mirage Detective Peoples specializes in child sex crimes and he agreed with Ditlevson about how hard it is for victimized children to report how they’ve been hurt. He said, “For them to make it to that point that's a big step, they are usually very nervous, very frightened.”
Ditlevson said, “I was deeply concerned and very sad that there were so many victims that they themselves or their families had the strength to come forward and to ask law enforcement to hold their perpetrators responsible and to help them and then the reports were just set aside and closed and not worked on. Disappointment, concern, sadness, I had all of those reactions.”
What she found to be most egregious is what she read in a 2008 letter written by El Mirage Police Chief Michael Frazier to Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Frazier wrote to Arpaio to call the Sheriff’s attention to MCSO’s total failure to work dozens of cases.
Frazier told Arpaio, "Review of the 51 reports assigned to the SVU revealed that 43 of them had not been worked at all, or had minimal follow up conducted.”
CHILDREN AND TEENS: THE MOST VULNERABLE VICTIMS
Many of the cases had known suspects, more than 90 percent had workable leads and the majority involved small children and young teens.
“The solvability of most of the cases has dwindled as the months and years have passed since the crimes were first reported,” said Frazier.
As an advocate for victims of violence, Ditlevson has seen a lot in her career. When we showed her the letter from Frazier to Arpaio she said, “I mean that's hard to hear. It was obvious that there was something that could have been done, these weren't vague reports.”
The letter Frazier wrote to Arpaio also sparked an MCSO Internal Affairs investigation and that’s when it became clear, the problem was much bigger than what happened in El Mirage.
A Pinal County Sheriff's Office investigation revealed the “failure to conduct investigation” into sex crimes cases didn’t just impact El Mirage, it was countywide and for a short time MCSO considered re-opening more than 400 sex crimes cases.
The report states, “The inadequate investigations has taken place over a period of approximately three or four years, and was not exclusive to El Mirage cases.”
Investigators learned one detective took a box of “50 or 60 cases home with him in his garage, and they sat there for a year".
Two Detectives deemed the “worst offenders” in the report both quit their jobs with the Maricopa County Sheriff, but ABC15 has confirmed they are still working in law enforcement in the Valley.
WHO WAS ACCOUNTABLE?
The person in charge of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office sex crimes unit was Sgt. Kim Seagraves.
The reports we reviewed suggest she “dropped the ball” and that an audit of cases, “started to reflect that Seagraves had not been an effective supervisor”.
Elizabeth Ditlevson was astounded, “that victims were left unattended and perpetrators who may be reoffending are still out there because of internal politics is deeply concerning”.
Consider a 16-year-old girl who said she was forcibly raped by a man she knew—a man in his thirties.
The report said she knew who did it and MCSO detectives showed up at the hospital to take custody of her clothes as evidence, but never worked the case after that.
“We have to wonder, you know, how is that girl doing,” said Ditlevson.
El Mirage Detective Robert Peoples doesn’t want to point fingers but is trying to move forward.
He is hopeful there can be justice for some of the victims and their families. “What happened in the past we really can't fix that," he said. "If there are still victims out there it’s time for them to come forward and come talk to us let us try to get some resolution for those victims. We find cases like that we make sure they are worked because they are very important cases to us. Someone has to be an advocate for them and that is what our job is to do.”
Detective Peoples is trying to remain optimistic about the young victims who have yet to get any justice.
We checked with the County Attorney's Office who told us there is no statute of limitations for many child sex crimes, sexual assault and violent sexual assault, so Peoples will continue to try to work the cases that MCSO didn’t.
You can help us get justice for some of the victims whose cases were ignored. Contact Christina Boomer at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of anyone who reported a sexual assault to Maricopa County
detectives but the case was never worked.
Mark LaMet also contributed to this story
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