PHOENIX - The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is speaking out after an ABC15 investigation revealed their office failed to investigate hundreds of sex crime cases, many involving children.
In a statement to ABC15, MCSO concedes that investigators “re-opened over 500 sex crime cases dating back to 2005.”
The statement goes on to say, “Over of the course of the [special victims unit] audit, over 400 cases were found to be lacking in investigative efforts," and “no personnel associated with this case has been held accountable or disciplined.”
The statement also references the following:
"The current status of the IA investigation into MCSO’s SVU is in the “Findings” stage.” All personnel associated with the case have been interviewed and the case is being reviewed for all possible policy violations. If and when any policy violations for employees are “Sustained” in this case, appropriate action will be taken."
Read the full statement
INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION
An internal affairs investigation was opened after the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office received a complaint in 2008 from the city of El Mirage about dozens of child sex crimes cases that had been assigned to the MCSO special victims unit.
Prior to October of 2007, El Mirage contracted with MCSO to handle its sex crimes cases.
The complaint from El Mirage stated that 43 of the 51 cases "had not been worked at all, or had minimal follow up conducted," even though "many of the cases had known suspects" and "more than 90% of the cases had workable leads."
Most of the cases involved small children and young teens.
A Pinal County Sheriff’s Office investigation into MCSO uncovered that Chief Deputy David Hendershott shut down the special victims unit internal affairs investigation in the spring of 2009.
WHO IS SERGEANT SEAGRAVES?
Documents state the internal affairs investigation was stopped because the woman leading the unit, Sgt. Kim Seagraves, was a key witness for MCSO in two other trials and Hendershott feared the internal affairs investigation would make Seagraves appear incompetent.
“Hendershott did not want negative information about Seagraves becoming an issue … Let’s not smear her while the office is potentially going to get litigated," the documents read.
The internal affairs investigation into MCSO’s SVU was reopened in September of 2010 after Hendershott was placed on administrative leave.
The lead investigator for MCSO did identify Seagraves as the principal lead into “whether there had been misconduct, negligence or incompetence” when it came to the sex crimes unit.
One employee described the SVU as a “rat’s nest” and stated that Seagraves had “dropped the ball.”
CLEARING THE CASES BY 'EXCEPTIONAL MEANS'
“The 32 cases you shared with me, many of them involved young children, teenagers, who either they, or their parents, made reports and nothing was ever done," said criminologist Cassia Spohn. "Presumably there are individuals who have committed heinous crimes and have not been brought to justice.”
Spohn is a professor at ASU’s Criminology and Criminal Justice Department who is currently researching how law enforcement clears sexual assault cases.
“I think the most egregious fact is that it seems clear that the Sheriff's department simply did not take these cases seriously, they did not do an investigation. It’s not that they didn't do a thorough investigation, it appears that they did not investigate these crimes at all and that to me is a miscarriage of justice.”
We showed her the documents, including a paragraph where an employee tells a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office investigator that Sgt. Seagraves lessened her case load by clearing the cases by "exceptional means".
"Many of the cases were just exceptionally cleared, and she just went ahead and signed off on them and certainly, what she did is she lessened the case load down to something that was at least acceptable to Captain Whitney. And therein lies the problem," Spohn said. "Apparently, many of the cases that were cleared or exceptionally cleared, were the ones that needed to be worked and just hadn’t been worked ... she sent out the directive and the email is pretty clear that, if the cases can’t be worked, you know, let’s clear them up, let’s inactive them, at least at this point and time, if there’s no more leads to follow up on.”
Law enforcement can clear or close a case in two ways: by arrest or by exceptional means.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program outlines the four specific criteria needed to justify using an “exceptional clearance” of a case.
MCSO spokeswoman Lisa Allen told me that MCSO does follow the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting guidelines.
She said whether or not Seagraves, or any other MCSO employee, ignored those guidelines is something that is the subject of the current Internal Affairs investigation into the Special Victims Unit.
The four criteria needed to clear a case by exceptional means include gathering enough evidence to charge someone, but there