Photo via ACLU.
In his book, "If There Were Any Victims," Bill Louis details what he found and what he did when he joined the re-established El Mirage (Ariz.) Police Department as assistant police chief. He was given boxes of case files after the roughly two years that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office under Sheriff Joe Arpaio was contracted as the city's sole law enforcement provider. Louis says that based on what those files contained, from 2005–2007 most crimes occurring in the town, including rape, murder, and child molestation, were never investigated. Retired Arizona officer Lori M. Connelly recently interviewed Louis about his book.
Connelly: This is a disturbing book. Not only are the police reports that you shared disturbing, but also the revelations about how poorly these cases were handled. Do you feel that the trust of law enforcement by the community of El Mirage was harmed by these cases not being pursued?
Louis: I do certainly think that all of us in law enforcement were harmed by the manner in which these cases were neglected and mishandled. The public often lumps all law enforcement officers into one group. Oftentimes, it doesn't matter which agency you are working for—when an officer or agency does something bad or unethical we all suffer in our professional reputations.
Connelly: "If There Were Any Victims" is the title you selected for your book. It comes from a quote taken directly from an apology given by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio during a press conference where he addressed the cases that had been left incomplete when his office was being paid to be the sole law enforcement provider for El Mirage. Why do you think Sheriff Joe said, "If there were any victims?"
Louis: That comment is what prompted me to write this book. In December 2011, Sheriff Arpaio was receiving tremendous criticism for his agency's failure to properly investigate these and hundreds of other sex crime cases. I believe Arpaio made the comment "if there were any victims" because he was trying to minimize the harm caused by his agency's neglect over these cases. By publicly "questioning" if there really were any victims he puts a doubt in the minds of some segments of the public.
I also think that by creating that "doubt" about whether there really were any victims, Arpaio attempted to de-humanize the situation. He tried to minimize the impact in the eye of the public by taking out the "human element." By raising that doubt about the existence of victims the public wouldn't necessarily see how horrible the situation really was for these child sex-crime victims.
At the time Arpaio made that comment he was well aware there were hundreds of victims. These victims endured some horrible experiences, and Arpaio should be ashamed of himself for publicly questioning whether there really were any victims. The victims deserved better than that from the sheriff who was ultimately responsible for their cases being neglected.
So I want to put the human element back in the situation by showing people through this book that these neglected cases involved real human beings with real lives. I want the public to see firsthand how these children and young girls suffered physical, emotional and psychological trauma from these crimes.
Connelly: These cases were not revealed to the public by the "new" El Mirage Police Department after the contract between El Mirage and MCSO was terminated. Who exposed the situation and what happened in El Mirage when the mishandling of these cases came out?
Louis: We at the new El Mirage Police Department did not reveal this information to the public or media. A reporter for the East Valley Tribune named Ryan Gabrielson was the first to approach us about it in late 2007 or early 2008. Apparently, he uncovered some similar neglect by Arpaio's guys in the East Valley. He contacted us because he knew that Arpaio had been contracted to provide police service in El Mirage. He filed a Freedom of Information Act request and we turned over our records as required under law. He wrote an article, which actually won him a Pulitzer Prize. Some months later, a reporter from the Arizona Republic named Lisa Halverstadt also submitted a FOIA request and wrote another article. But it wasn't until December 2011 that Associated Press reporter Jacques Billeaud wrote a story and it was published nationally. That caused a major flurry of public criticism against Arpaio.
Connelly: In the book you have changed the names of the victims, witnesses, and suspects in regards to the police reports. Are the police report numbers the original ones?
Louis: No, I took many steps to protect the privacy of the people involved in each of the cases listed in the book. The names, addresses, and dates were all changed, and the police report numbers listed are not the actual numbers.
Connelly: El Mirage is a town with a substantial Hispanic population. Do you think that racism played a part in why these cases were not followed up on or completed in a legally required manner?
Louis: That is a difficult question to answer and one that comes up a lot. El Mirage was originally founded as a migrant camp. So in the book I included a section on the statistics (victims and suspects) from the 31 police reports that I discussed. About 42% of the victims were white and the remaining 58% were non-white. Approximately, 38% of the suspects were listed as white and 62% were non-white.
Connelly: How many of these cases had to be left incomplete because of the passage of time, or as you state in the book, the fact that people have moved on with their lives and don't want to deal with these issues again?
Louis: By the time we uncovered these neglected cases and reassigned them to detectives for follow-up, most of the cases were years old and stale. In the book I do not include the current status of any of the cases. Some of these cases may still involve active investigations or prosecutions, and I did not want to compromise any of those cases. But I can tell you that many of the victims that we re-contacted after this neglect was uncovered said they no longer wanted anything done. Most had moved on in their lives, had completed psychological counseling, or were involved in new relationships. Many said they just wanted to put it all in the past.
Connelly: Do you consider this a re-victimization of these victims and their families because of how these cases were handled?
Louis: Yes, I most certainly do. They were victimized by their offenders and then re-victimized by not receiving the proper level of care, investigation, or justice.
Connelly: What has been the most serious result of these cases being mishandled?
Louis: As cops we always feel bad for the victims of crimes when things like this happen. Most of these cases that were neglected had good workable investigative leads; many even listed the names of the offenders who were family members, neighbors, or acquaintances.
So I think that the most serious fallout from these cases is that many, many sex offenders were never arrested or brought to justice. And as we all know, sex-offenders, rapists, and pedophiles most always re-offend. It makes you wonder how many more women and little girls were sexually assaulted or abused by these suspects because they were never arrested.
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