Community responds following ABC15 investigation into ignored MCSO sex crimes cases

EL MIRAGE, AZ - There are three big developments stemming from ABC15's investigation into hundreds of "un-worked" sex crime cases in Maricopa County.

The mayor of El Mirage, where the cases first came to light, has commented only to ABC15.

A community group is blaming Sheriff Joe Arpaio and calling for his resignation.

Plus, for the first time, we have heard from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office interim Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan who explained what's being done right now to fix the problem.

Our investigation revealed the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's Special Victims Unit did not investigate dozens of sex crimes cases in the West Valley community.

Most of the victims were young teens and children, some as young as three years old.

It was during a time when the city contracted with MCSO to investigate those cases.

El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook issued a statement to ABC15.

"This is a very complicated and sensitive issue and it would not be appropriate for me to comment at this time." However Mook goes on to say, "I strongly encourage any potential victims and witnesses remaining in El Mirage who might have been involved with these cases to come forward to the El Mirage Police Department. From what I understand, there is no statute of limitations on these types of cases. Our Police Chief is committed to providing the highest level of public safety services to our residents and will investigate any new information with extreme diligence."

The ABC15 Investigators then uncovered problems beyond El Mirage; they surfaced after the city complained to MCSO, launching an internal affairs investigation back in 2008.

MCSO told us they re-opened more than 500 cases across the county dating back to 2005.

Officials said of those 500 they found that around 400 lacked what they called investigative work.

Now the community group Living United for Change in Arizona, better known as LUCHA, has launched an online petition calling for the Maricopa County Attorney to investigate and Sheriff Joe Arpaio to resign.

The petition states: "$100 Million ‘Misspent' and 400 Uninvestigated Sex Crimes…End the Corruption and Abuses Now!"

In the body of the petition it reads, "On Sheriff Joe's watch, 400 sex crimes against CHILDREN went uninvestigated. Victims—children from 2 to 16 years old—were not helped and sexual predators were left unchecked, free to abuse more children."

Monica Sandschafer of LUCHA wrote in an e-mail, "Sheriff Joe Arpaio stood by and let these children and women be abused. By not investigating the crimes against these 400 people, he sent a message to all predators that Maricopa County is a "sanctuary" for them."

MCSO interim Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan responded by saying, "I am actually appalled by this statement. The reality is there was a group of detectives assigned to the sex crimes unit and there was no case tracking."

He said they have implemented a new case tracking system to prevent this from happening again.

He also said they've investigated every case they've reopened and several arrests have been made.

As for the exact number of arrests, he told me he'll provide an exact number next week.

I asked, why would it be that it is now 2011 and not a single MCSO employee has been disciplined? Sheridan answered, "That's a good question."

Sheridan replaced David Hendershott eight months ago.

Hendershott is the man who shut down a previous internal affairs investigation into MCSO's Special Victims Unit.

Sheridan said when he took over he re-opened the internal affairs investigation, "to make sure the people who were accountable for this lack of judgment, incompetence, will be held accountable."

Remember when Sheridan said he was appalled at LUCHA's statement?

Sandschafer of LUCHA said that comment alone demonstrates that MCSO lacks perspective and a true understanding of the impact their actions have had on crime victims and the community.

In an email she writes, "It takes real audacity for the Sheriff's Department to call words on paper or online 'appalling.' What about the 400 abused women and children who didn't get justice from his office? Where's the outrage over that? Their lack of professional attention to these cases - and the subsequent danger these victims and all of us face with predators out on the streets - is what's truly appalling."

On Friday night Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox also sounded off.

She also hopes the County Attorney will look into this issue adding, "One has to wonder what the Sheriff's Office has been doing with the millions of dollars the Board of Supervisors gives MCSO each year."

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