Friday, December 9, 2011

Citizens suffer in Arpaio's wars

The Arizona Republic
Dec. 8, 2011 12:00 AM | Posted in OPINIONS | Source: The Arizona Republic

For many years, a doting public has reveled in the bluster and bravado of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio based on a single premise -- a premise we now know to be utterly, transparently false.
Let "America's toughest sheriff" tell the molested kids of El Mirage how tough he is on crime.

Let him explain to them how his incompetent administration scarcely lifted a finger to investigate hundreds of sex-crime cases Valley-wide -- many of them perpetrated against children; many with easily identifiable suspects -- to say nothing of numerous other crimes, including homicides, that Arpaio's investigators did virtually nothing to close.

The sheriff on Monday offered up a facsimile of an apology for the dereliction that adds to his legacy of contempt for critics. He said: "If there were any victims, I apologize to those victims."
If ... there ... were ... any ... victims. The reams of botched investigations include that of a 9-year-old girl who reported that her grandmother's live-in boyfriend repeatedly attacked her in her bedroom. They include a 15-year-old girl who ran terrorized into a store crying that two men had just raped her. They include victims as young as 2 years old.
None of the investigations of these cases, and hundreds more like them, went anywhere.

But by all means, sheriff, do cast your usual miasma of doubt on the veracity of your accusers. By all means lace your insulting apology with hints that there is nothing to this alleged crime scene and everyone should just move along.

As reported in May by The Republic's JJ Hensley and Lisa Halverstadt, an audit of Arpaio's police work over the past several years has produced a record that is stupifying to genuine police investigators.

When real police officers took over the train wreck Arpaio's office had made of crime investigations in El Mirage, the new police chief told Arpaio in 2008 that he had reviewed 51 serious crime investigations opened while the sheriff's office had been responsible for policing El Mirage. Of those, 43 investigations had not been worked at all, or had minimal follow-up conducted.

"Many of the cases had known suspects listed in the reports," wrote newly-appointed El Mirage Police Chief Michael T. Frazier. "More than 90 percent of the cases had workable leads. The majority of these cases involved small children and young teens as victims."

The investigations went nowhere. Even Arpaio's investigation of Frazier's complaints went nowhere.

Implausible as it may seem, the behavior of the sheriff and his top deputies merely worsened after the Sheriff's Office finally was tossed out of El Mirage. As a parting shot at the beleaguered town for refusing to renew its contract with them, Arpaio and Hendershott ordered a massive sweep of the largely Hispanic West Valley town for suspected illegal immigrants. A rawer, more unadulterated act of contempt is difficult to contemplate.

In part, the scandal of Arpaio's dereliction of duty has gone national thanks to the terrible stories of sexual abuse of children now churning in the East. But unlike those incidents , this Arizona scandal is not a question of officials performing the bare minimum of their duty. It is a matter of the protectors of the peace leaving children altogether to the mercy of their predators.

Much of this coincides in time with the sensational political wars Arpaio waged against the county supervisors, judges and administrators. And there is some evidence that his political fights took precedence over proper oversight of his criminal investigators.

If so, there simply is no greater abrogation of duty a law-enforcement official could commit.

While citizens suffered, Arpaio played politics. "America's toughest sheriff," indeed.

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