'America's Toughest Sheriff' Ignored Sex Crimes

PHOENIX, AZ—Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who's just settled a 17-month old lawsuit by the Justice Department for refusing to provide booking procedures, language and interpretation services, arrests, and access to staff and jails largely revolving around his treatment of undocumented immigrants, is now taking heat for his department's having ignored over 400 sex crimes reported in his jurisdiction, Maricopa County, over the past four years.

Arpaio, who made the national news for making convicts wear pink underwear, for housing them in tent cities in the desert where temperatures reached over 110 degrees, and who last December offered a turkey dinner as a prize for the convict (and his cellmate) would could put on the best singing and dancing show—all others got regular prison food—has (surprise, surprise!) "refused requests over a period of months to answer questions about the investigations and declined a public records request for an internal affairs report, citing potential disciplinary actions."

Specifically ignored were reports of at least 32 child molestations in the city of El Mirage, which contracts with Arpaio's office for police services. Some of the victims were as young as 2 years old, most were children of undocumented immigrants, and most had known suspects which Arpaio's office failed to follow up on.

But while Brian Sands, described as "a top sheriff's official who is in charge of the potential discipline of any responsible employees," told reporters that "officers had subsequently moved to clear up inadequately investigated sex-crimes in El Mirage and elsewhere," Det. Jerry Laird, who works in El Mirage and who's reviewed some of the "investigations," told the Associated Press that "an overwhelming majority of them hadn't been worked."

"That meant there were no follow-up reports, no collection of additional forensic evidence and zero effort made after the initial report of the crime was taken," wrote AP reporter Jacques Billeaud. "... A small number of cases from El Mirage were handed over to prosecutors, but the El Mirage Police Department said most were no longer viable—evidence dating as far back as 2006 had grown cold or wasn't collected in the first place, victims had either moved away or otherwise moved on."

Worse, assistant El Mirage police chief Bill Louis, who reviewed files after the town's $2.7 million contract with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office ended, concluded that supervisors in Arpaio's office decided simply to ignore the sex crimes cases since so many of them involved immigrants who were unlikely to complain about the (lack of) quality of the investigations.

"I know the investigators. I just cannot believe they would wholesale discount these cases. No way," Louis told the AP. "The direction had to come [from] up the food chain."

But the top of the "food chain," Arpaio himself, had plenty of time (and money) for other activities during this same time period. According to a report in the Arizona Republic, since 2003, Arpaio has used $99.5 million in public funds to pay salaries in his department—money that was supposed to be used for housing prison inmates and providing other services to them. By comparison, the $456,000 he spent on a customized bus for his officein 2009—funds for which the county board of supervisors approved just this year—must look like chickenfeed.

Arpaio is expected to endorse Texas Gov. Rick Perry for president any day now.