Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio
He’s known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” but guardians for an Arizona girl claim Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was soft when it came to a rape investigation. Reuters

He calls himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” but guardians for an Arizona girl charge Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio went soft when it came to a rape investigation.

Arpaio is being sued by the guardians of an incapacitated girl, who say the outspoken Arizona sheriff botched the investigation of an alleged rape that caused the 13-year-old to be impregnated by her paternal uncle, according to Courthouse News Service.

Arpaio's office said in a statement to IBTimes that there were myriad reasons why the investigation was delayed.

"A final resolution to the ... case was stalled for a number of reasons including, but certainly not limited to, a family who repeatedly told deputies the victim was not telling the truth about the assault. Also at the time this crime occurred, the Sheriff’s Office did not have a viable computer tracking/caseload management system to properly advance the case. The unit also had too few detectives assigned to work the high volume of cases coming in. All this occurred six years ago in 2007. Since then, the Sheriff’s Office has rectified our internal issues by adding more technology and more detectives to avoid a similar recurrence."

The suit, which seeks unspecified damages and was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, asserts that Arpaio’s office was slow to respond to the rape allegations and waited three years to collect evidence from the uncle.

The girl, who is now 19, was 13 years old on March 7, 2007 when she “was raped by her paternal uncle, Patrick Morrison, at her parents’ residence while they slept in another room,” the lawsuit claims.

Morrison eventually pleaded guilty to child molestation and got a 24-year prison sentence, according to the complaint.

The girl told a friend and a school guidance counselor about the rape and Arpaio’s office was notified the day after the rape, according to the suit.

A deputy from Arpaio’s office visited the girl’s school the same day he was notified, and the girl told the deputy about the rape allegations. She also said her uncle threatened to “kill her” and “snap her neck” if she told anyone.

A deputy then spoke to the girl’s father, and he “professed to know nothing of the incident,” the court papers say.

The girl was examined and, in May 2007, the Arizona Department of Public Safety discovered semen was found on some of the items collected during the exam, “which was consistent with a claim of rape,” Courthouse News Service reported.

The agency urged Arpaio’s office to conduct DNA testing on the uncle, but the lawsuit claims the sheriff declared the case “inactive” in January 2008.

During the next 3½ years, the sheriff’s office “did nothing to further investigate the rape case” while the girl “was raped and molested repeatedly by the same uncle,” according to the suit.

"All the subsequent acts of rape, molestation and assault committed by him ... could have been avoided with the arrest of Patrick Morrison within a reasonable period of time after the commencement of the investigation into the March 7, 2007 rape of plaintiff," the lawsuit claims.

The case against Morrison was reopened in June 2011, with his DNA being collected in September 2011. The lawsuit claimed Morrison’s DNA matched sperm that had been collected “almost five years earlier,” when the girl had a rape exam. Morrison was then arrested and charged with sexual conduct with a minor.

According to the lawsuit, Arpaio’s office never interviewed the victim again and never learned that she was repeatedly raped. The suit claimed the sheriff found out about the repeated abuse from a victim’s advocate, which led to additional charges of child molestation and furnishing obscene material to a minor.