Understaffing cited in botched Arizona probes

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 11, 2013 at 8:39 pm •  Published: February 11, 2013

PHOENIX (AP) — A report examining more than 400 sex-crime cases that were inadequately investigated or not looked into at all by an Arizona sheriff's office attributes the failures to understaffing and mismanagement, including hundreds of pieces of evidence intended for storage that were instead left in offices or taken home by detectives.

The internal affairs report released Monday blamed officers on Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's sex-crimes squad for some failures and noted the squad was "overworked and understaffed." But the report said officials were rescinding earlier letters that threatened to discipline the officers in question.

"This systematic problem could not then, and cannot now, be properly addressed or corrected by disciplining a few individuals," Arpaio aide Brian Sands wrote in a new letter Monday to one of the squad members. Sands wrote that officers fell short in their duties because they were assigned an overwhelming volume of complex, time-consuming cases to investigate. The squad had too few detectives, and budget restrictions limited overtime hours.

The report also attributed the failures to detectives marking cases as cleared when investigations were still under way, and to a supervisor who didn't use the agency's case tracking system and instead relied a written log that often lacked key information and made it virtually impossible to determine the status of each case.

According to the report, a box containing 47 pieces of evidence was found underneath a sex-crimes detective's desk. If the box hadn't been found — an internal investigator looked for it for two weeks — prosecutors could have been forced to drop all charges against a suspect, the report said.

When another detective was transferred out of the sex-crimes squad, he took a box of evidence home with him, the report said. The detective stored the box in his garage for a while before moving it to a locker at his patrol district office. He claimed the original copies were in evidence storage, according to the report.

The sheriff's office issued a statement Monday saying it worked to correct the problems once they were pointed out.

"The internal investigation shows that the problems were not unique to this agency and were systemic in nature," the agency said. The statement didn't address the issue of understaffing.

In November 2011, the sheriff's office sent letters to former sex-crimes squad supervisor Kim Seagraves and four other people who served on the squad, saying the agency was considering suspending them for alleged incompetency, neglect of duty and other conduct violations. But on Monday, the sheriff's office sent the officers a new letter saying it was rescinding the previous letter that threatened to discipline them. Seagraves' attorney, Kathryn Baillie, declined to comment on the report.