PHOENIX - The family of a girl who was sexually abused by a relative is seeking $30 million from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office for failing to investigate the case for nearly five years.
The girl told a school counselor in 2007 that she had been molested by an uncle. Sheriff's deputies were called and took the girl for a physical examination. It showed no physical signs of abuse, but a state police lab report came back positive for semen two months later and deputies were advised to get a DNA sample from the suspect.
The Arizona Republic reports the family's pre-lawsuit claim says deputies instead labeled the case inactive. It wasn't until June 2011 that the case was reopened and a DNA sample was obtained from the uncle.
County administrators declined to comment on the claim because it was still under review. Claims must be filed and rejected by a government agency before a lawsuit can be filed.
The uncle pleaded guilty earlier this month to three counts of child molestation against his developmentally disabled niece and will be sentenced next month.
The family came forward last spring in the hope that their case would call attention to the widespread nature of the sheriff's mismanaged sex-crime cases. The girl's case is not related to hundreds of sex-abuses cases from El Mirage that the sheriff's office failed to properly investigate. Those cases came to light in 2007.
Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan said he was disheartened by the claim because the Sheriff's Office has worked to improve its abuse investigations.
"We've made a lot of progress since we first detected these cases," Sheridan said.
By the time the sheriff reopened the girl's case, the uncle had repeatedly abused and molested his niece, according to the claim. He was arrested earlier this year.
Because the family only knew about the nurse's report that showed no signs of abuse, the family allowed the uncle to remain in and around the home and disregarded their daughter's claims.
"Hence, when (he) denied the incident as ever happening, the lack of further action by the Sheriff's Office cemented in the (family's) minds the initial finding that there was no evidence of rape and correspondingly eroded any credibility they might have accorded their daughter's story -- a young girl beset by significant mental limitations," the claim notes. "The level of psychic pain this child was forced to endure is both unconscionable and unforgivable."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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