PHOENIX - The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has conceded its Special Victims Unit failed to investigate hundreds of sex crime cases countywide, now two former detectives are speaking out.
The Pinal County Sheriff's Office recently conducted an administrative investigation into MCSO.
In that report, MCSO command staff detail problems and mismanagement within the SVU.
It is uncovered that more than 400 cases, some involving young children, some dating back to 2005, were not properly investigated.
MCSO commanders identify only two detectives by name.
Mary Ward and James Weege are described as the "worst offenders" and "principals" of an Internal Affairs investigation into the SVU.
"We had two detectives in that unit quit because we were looking at them and they're working for Goodyear PD now," the documents state.
Ward and Weege's personnel records show that they resigned from MCSO in 2008 and started with the Goodyear Police Department five days later.
It was in 2008 that the documents state MCSO first opened an Internal Affairs investigation into the SVU where Ward worked for seven years and Weege worked for four.
Ward now works with Goodyear police as a sex crimes detective and Weege is a patrol officer.
I asked acting Goodyear Police Chief Bill Cusson what he would say to members of his community that might be concerned that two former MCSO detectives accused of failing to investigate sex crimes now work for Goodyear.
"I would understand the concern," he said. "But there is nothing in their performance evaluations that leads me to believe that they are not stellar employees."
In 2009, Ward won an award at Goodyear Police for "Courage and Professionalism in the Performance of Duties".
ABC15 checked their personnel files from Goodyear and found both Ward and Weege have received positive employee evaluations.
Cusson said it is standard procedure to check references and conduct a background check before hiring an employee.
He said that is exactly what he did with Ward and Weege.
"Our background investigators are very good and none of this, none of this information came to our attention before we offered them an employment opportunity here in the City of Goodyear," Cusson said.
When asked if he was alerted to the fact that Ward and Weege were principals in an internal affairs investigation for not investigating sex crimes, Cusson said he did follow up.
"When this story first broke I did take an opportunity to review both of their background packets that our background investigator did and none of that information is in there," said Cusson. "MCSO indicated they had launched an internal investigation prior to their employment here with Goodyear. I would hope that that info would have been shared before we offered them an employment letter."
But just this past Monday, MCSO sent us a statement that included this line, "2 detectives assigned to the sex crime unit during this time have left employment with the Sheriff's Office after being confronted regarding the poor investigations."
I read that to both Ward and Weege who told me nearly simultaneously, "That's a lie, that's a lie."
Weege added, "We're here to tell you what's being depicted is not how it happened."
Showing off the numerous awards they received at MCSO, the pair said they were blindsided by the accusations made by their former employer.
"We were never told that we were under internal investigation, in fact what we were told over and over again nobody is in trouble, everyone is doing a great job," said Ward.
Ward and Weege told us that for years they warned command staff at MCSO that their case load was too great.
Ward said at MCSO she'd have to juggle about 60 cases at a time from the Northeast Valley town of Fountain Hills to the West Valley City of El Mirage.
At Goodyear Police she says she only handles about 10 cases at a time.
Weege said, "We were being inundated with cases, these are highly sensitive cases, we repeatedly asked for resources like detectives and were repeatedly told, 'You're not going to get them, everybody's short.' Detectives are being scapegoated on this."
Ward added, "They pretty much abandoned us and said it's your guys' fault."
Ward and Weege also told us that a heavy case load wasn't the only problem.
They claim they were often pulled out of the SVU and told not to investigate their cases in order to work what they called "politically motivated" investigations.
To hear them talk about that, in their own words, watch the video clip attached above.
Ward and Weege believe MCSO is blaming them for problems in the SVU as retaliation for leaving the Sheriff's Office.
They also think they are a convenient target for MCSO command staff personnel who are now trying to save their own skin.
They said command staff personnel are the ones who denied them additional resources while simultaneously pulling them from their cases to cover other investigations outside the SVU.
They tell me upper management
ordered them to inactivate cases and, at times, clear them by exceptional means to lessen the case load, something they argued against.
Now, Ward and Weege say it is those same individuals who are blaming them for mismanagement of the SVU, which has them very upset and disappointed in their former employer.
They insist that no one ever interviewed them before slamming them in public documents.
They also said, had Pinal County investigators asked for an interview, they would have granted one but that also didn't happen.
They also both mentioned that they do care about their cases and are deeply concerned and bothered that so many sex crimes cases were never investigated.
"It hurts both of us and makes us sick to know that happened," said Ward.
I asked Cusson if he regrets hiring Ward and Weege, to which he replied "absolutely not, absolutely not, both of these employees have proven themselves worthy of the title of a Goodyear City Police Officer."
ABC15 asked MCSO for comment on what Ward and Weege had to say.
They e-mailed me this statement:
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is now looking into the conduct and work product of the employees assigned to the sex crimes unit between 2005 and 2007. This includes these former employees, now officers with the Goodyear Police Department, Mary Ward and Jim Weege. Ward and Weege left the employ of the Sheriff's office immediately after an investigation into their workmanship began.
The internal investigation into what happened during those years in the sex crimes unit will be completed soon and will clarify the issues raised.