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MCSO blames lack of staff for bungled sex crimes cases

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office says it was a system problem that caused the department to drop the ball on hundreds of sex crime cases.

MCSO said their special victims unit that handles sex crimes was woefully understaffed.

An internal investigation just released Monday concluded that the "deficiencies identified ... were not problems that stemmed from the conduct of one or a few individuals."

The move follows months of requests by CBS 5 News, which escalated to the threat of legal action if the documents remained withheld.

The attorney for CBS 5 set a deadline of Monday, Feb. 11. On Friday, MCSO announced it would release the 10,000 pages of documents from the investigation Monday.

The documents detailed the extent to which the Special Victims Unit was understaffed from 2004 to 2008. Its five detectives handled an average of 315 sex crimes cases per year.

The investigation revealed how those detectives began cutting corners. They cleared a total of 270 cases without fully investigating them and failed to impound 460 pieces of evidence. In some cases, they took evidence home with them.

In 2006, after complaints about staffing levels from a lieutenant, the sheriff's office approved five additional detective positions and one more sergeant position for the unit. But those officers were diverted to other areas within the sheriff's office.

In 2008, MCSO discovered hundreds of cases that had gone uninvestigated or had been inadequately investigated. At that point, the department began an internal investigation to find out why.

Two deputies in the unit resigned. Five deputies were notified they would be suspended, but on Monday the suspension orders were rescinded.

At the time of the cases, the unit had one sergeant and five detectives. Now they have two sergeants and 11 detectives.

One of the victims of those cases was Sabrina Morrison. She was 13 years old when her uncle raped her in 2007. Despite alerting MCSo to the crime the day after the assault, the case sat idle for four years. The uncle, Patrick Morrison, wasn't arrested until five years later.

[Related: Rape victim opens up about botched MCSO investigation]

"An eighth-grader could have solved this case," said Charles Surrano, who is Sabrina's attorney. "They knew who the suspect was. They knew where he lived. He never left the jurisdiction in all five years the case was neglected."

In an email, the sheriff's office stated that it would provide copies of the reports for $5,000 cash or money order. The Arizona public records law requires government agencies to make documents available for inspection free of charge.

Stay with cbs5az.com for updates on this developing story.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Sidebar: MCSO Sex Crimes

Updated:

Letter 1 - 12/26/12 Letter 2 - 1/15/13 Response - 1/14/13 Letter 3 - 1/30/13 Response - 2/1/13 Letter 4 - 2/6/13 Response - 2/8/13

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