MCSO investigation puts some blame on former chief for mishandled sex crimes cases

PHOENIX - Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies and lieutenants, who once faced the possibility of suspension for mishandling hundreds of sex crime cases, blamed a lack of resources for many of the problems within the Special Victims Unit, according to internal affairs records released by MCSO Monday.

ACCORDING TO THE INTERNAL RECORDS

During an interview in May 2011, one deputy told internal affairs investigators his experience in the SVU was unpleasant.  

"Some of the worst time I've had in my career as a Deputy Sheriff," he said. "We were super understaffed (and) super overworked."

"I have told every supervisor I have ever had…that I felt my case load was too high that I'm overwhelmed and can we please try to find some solution to help me because you know cases need to be worked," he said.

THE BLAME

During a June 2011 interview with internal affairs investigators, a former MCSO captain blamed former MCSO Deputy Chief, Dave Hendershott, for the lack of resources and  problems that occurred while MCSO handled cases on behalf of the City of El Mirage.

According to the Internal Affairs Division Case Summary, former captain, Brian Beamish, told investigators, "Chief Hendershott had placed the Sheriff's Office in a position of increased responsibility by adding the contract with El Mirage, without ensuring that those responsible were given the manpower and resources to ensure things could be done correctly, the ‘machine' didn't work."

The ABC15 Investigators could not reach Hendershott for comment on Tuesday.

MCSO's internal investigation determined efforts to reduce the SVU's workload were underway in 2006. A request for additional funding for a special "Abuse Unit" had been approved by the County in January of that year. 

However, the special unit was never developed. "Had it been created and implemented, the Abuse Unit's (1) Sergeant and (5) Detectives posed the possibility of reducing the SVU detectives' case load by approximately 50 percent," the internal affairs report indicated.

NO DIRECT DISCIPLINE

Records released Monday show Maricopa County Sheriff's supervisors and deputies directly involved in the mishandling of hundreds of sex crimes cases will not be disciplined.

According to letters dated February 11, 2013 and sent to two MCSO deputies and three lieutenants facing discipline, the failure by MCSO to properly investigate hundreds of sex crimes is the result of a "systemic problem" that could not be solved by disciplining just a "few individuals."

The letter, signed by MCSO Executive Chief, Brian Sands, blamed insufficient staffing, budget restrictions, and improper investigative tools as reasons MCSO investigators were unable to properly handle the cases.

Sands said MCSO is working to improve the problems within the sheriff's office by upgrading their case tracking system to make it completely computerized.

By the end of February, they also hope to add two detectives to the Special Victims Unit, tasked with investigating sex crimes. The unit currently has 13 members, including two sergeants and 11 detectives. 

Sands also said, "SVU command staff and detectives have also received and will continue to receive extensive training and refresher courses relevant to the investigation and management of sex crime and child abuse cases."

MCSO has also upgraded its sex offender tracking system and plans to implement a state-of-the-art records management system by the end of the year, Sands' letter indicated.

"If there were any victims out there, I apologize to those victims," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in a December 2011 news conference. "Sometimes in a large law enforcement agency, these sort of situations occur."

The Sheriff declined our request for an interview Tuesday.

On Monday, MCSO released this statement:

With the release of over 20,000 pages of documents, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office officially closed its internal investigation into the mishandling of sex crimes cases which occurred between 2004 and 2008, marking the end of the disciplinary portion of this investigation.

However, in 2007 when the Office became aware of this issue, corrective actions were immediately implemented to prevent a recurrence and work began to bring closure to any pending cases. Each case was reopened, reinvestigated and audited multiple times. Problems and causes were identified and rectified.  

The internal investigation shows that the problems were not unique to this agency and were systemic in nature.  It is the policy of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to seek continual improvement in all its operations.

Please refer to the letter dated February 11, 2013 for a detailed explanation as to what changes have been instituted to the Special Victim's Unit.

 

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