SPEAKER

 
 
 
 
 

President Matt Ruppert introduced our guest speaker, Lando Voyles. Voyles was sworn in as County Attorney in December, 2012.

 

 

 

Prior to taking office in Pinal County, Lando Voyles worked as a prosecutor in Maricopa County. In that position, Mr. Voyles noticed that there was a big problem in Pinal County with the way child victims were handled. “In fact, we had approximately 13 children who had reported to the sheriff’s office as being sexually assaulted. Of those 13, only one would go to the County Attorney’s office. The remaining 12 decided they wanted nothing to do with the law enforcement aspect, and they disappeared.”

 

And who could blame them? In the past, after the child told someone he or she trusted about the sexual abuse, that adult would contact the Department of Child Services (DCS). DCS would conduct an interview with the child and then make an appointment for a medical exam. It could take a while for that exam to be scheduled, though, as the Phoenix Children’s Hospital was the only place in Arizona that had Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurses, and they were required to take care of all Maricopa County cases before scheduling exams for other counties. “In October of 2014, we had a child in Casa Grande who had been sodomized, but we had a four-week wait for the medical exam because we were behind all the cases that occur in Maricopa County. That can’t happen.” Once exam day arrived, the child would be transported from Pinal County to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital in the back of a patrol car.

 

Next, local law enforcement officers conducted another interview, usually in the same room where prisoners are interrogated (although Apache Junction does have a “soft room” for interviews with children). After the police interview, a meeting with a psychiatrist would usually be set to determine if there would be any long-term effects on that child. Then the child would be interviewed by the Pinal County Attorney’s office to prepare for trial. On average, each investigation would entail 12 interviews followed by 6 months of investigation and waiting for the case to go to trial.

 

Most children and their non-offending parents won’t follow through with this process because they feel re-victimized by the system. Without their cooperation, the County Attorney cannot prosecute the case.

 

Upon taking office, Voyles, working with local police enforcement and non-profits, set up Family Advocacy Centers in Eloy and San Tan Valley, bringing all the agencies together under one roof. When a crime is reported, the non-offending parent brings the child to the center, which is designed to be a kid-friendly environment. Interview rooms have closed-circuit cameras so that a case advocate can conduct one interview with the child, with all agency representatives watching. Before concluding the interview, representatives have a chance to relay questions they have to the interviewer. After the interview, the child is walked to the back of the building for a medical exam by the SANE nurse assigned to that center.

 

The Family Advocacy Centers are also supported by Goodwill and the Salvation Army, who provide vouchers for the non-offending parent and child so they can purchase whatever they need. “On that day, they are escorted to a shelter, and they never have to return home where the offender is. We took what used to be 6 months and 12 interviews per child and brought it together into one day and one interview.”

 

In December of 2014, there were 0 children reporting in San Tan Valley – not because the crime wasn’t there, but because they wouldn’t follow through. In the first month the San Tan Valley center was open, there were 79 cases. Since then, the center has averaged 50-60 children every month. The Family Advocacy Center in Eloy has been accredited, and the San Tan Valley center should receive its accreditation soon. When the National Children’s Alliance came out from Washington D.C. to accredit the Eloy facility, they said that it was the highest rating they had ever given. They had NO recommendations for improvement, and they have designated the center as a model.

 

It’s too soon to tell how many of these cases will result in conviction, but the cases are going to court and being prosecuted, which is a giant step in the right direction.

 

Another accomplishment during Voyles term is the cross-deputizing of Border Patrol as Pinal County Sheriff’s deputies. Statistically, the Pinal County border has accounted for 60% of all drug trafficking that comes into the United States and 40% of human smuggling. By deputizing Border Patrol agents, the agents were able to take Blackhawk helicopters to the mountain tops and pull out known scouts. The scouts were successfully prosecuted by the Pinal County Attorney’s office and are now in prison. As a result, the foot traffic bringing drugs across the border has been largely pushed out of Pinal County. Unfortunately, neighboring counties report a massive increase in foot traffic.