Joe Arpaio, Arizona sheriff, accused of botching sex crime investigations


Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain (R) speaks during a news conference with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at Arpaio's headquarters October 17, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.


Joshua Lott

Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff, has been accused of failing to properly investigate more than 400 sex-crimes — including dozens of cases of alleged child molestation.

The Associated Press reported that between 2005 and 2007, Arpaio's office not only failed to adequately investigate sex crimes, but in some cases never opened investigations at all — even when the suspects were known to police.

In one city in northwestern metro Phoenix [El Mirage] where Arpaio's office was providing contract police services, officials discovered at least 32 reported child molestations where Arpaio's office failed to follow through, even though suspects were known in all but six cases.

A retired El Mirage police official who reviewed the files said many of the victims were children of illegal immigrants, according to the AP.

Victims included a 15-year-old girl who said she was raped by two men outside an El Mirage shopping center and a 9-year-old who told a school counselor her grandmother's boyfriend often came into her bedroom at night, performing sex acts as she tried to sleep, according to the Arizona Republic.

Police also discovered dozens of lengthy investigations, including homicides, that appeared to have suspects or leads at the time. Yet, despite extensive interviews and detective work, they were never presented to prosecutors. Arrests were never made.

Local media first broke the story in May, blaming the failure to properly investigate the sex-crime on poor oversight and a desire by former Chief Deputy David Hendershott to protect a key investigator — due to testify in a corruption case he was pushing — from bad publicity.

Sheriff's officials at the time blamed faulty equipment and staff shortages.

The AP relates the feelings of El Mirage Detective Jerry Laird, who "learned from a sheriff's summary of 50 to 75 cases files he picked up from Arpaio's office that an overwhelming majority of them hadn't been worked."

"I think that at some point prior to the contract [for police services] running out, they put their feet on the desk, and that was that," Laird reportedly said.

Many of the affected parties had since left town and much of the evidence had gone cold — or was never even collected — meaning that the cases would never be pursued, let alone solved.

Arpaio, according to Time Magazine likes to call himself "America's toughest sheriff." He earned a reputation of sorts for his treatment of prisoners — he instituted chain gangs in 1995, reportedly housed inmates in tents when jails reached capacity and forced prisoners to wear pink underwear — and for his stance on illegal immigration in Phoenix and surrounds.

He has endorsed Rick Perry for the Republican presidential nomination, saying the three-term Texas governor has done more to combat illegal immigration along the U.S. border then any of the other candidates, Fox News reported.

However, Gawker put a new spin on the moniker, referring to him in a headline as "America's worst sheriff" — "for the many things he does not do — such as his job."