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Botched investigation by Arizona sheriff into child's rape leads to $3.5 million settlement

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PHOENIX — A botched investigation into the rape of a 13-year-old girl has led to a $3.5 million settlement between the victim and county officials, the latest in a string of high-priced legal payouts brought on by the actions of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office.

The girl's rape was among more than 400 sex-crime cases that were inadequately investigated or not looked into at all by Joe Arpaio's office over a three-year period ending in 2007.

The girl's attacker was not arrested after the original assault despite the incident being reported to authorities the next day. The girl underwent a forensic exam to seek evidence of rape, the lawsuit said, but the sheriff's office did nothing to push the investigation forward for more than three years.

During that time, the suspect continued his sexual attacks on the girl, the lawsuit said. She was impregnated and had an abortion in 2009, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit said the attacker threatened to kill the girl if she reported the allegations.

The lawsuit alleged that the subsequent attacks on the girl could have been avoided if Arpaio's office arrested the suspect after he first abused her in March 2007.

The decision to resolve the lawsuit by the girl's guardians marks the latest in a long string of legal settlements against Arpaio's office. The county had previously paid more than $68 million in judgments, settlements and legal fees for the sheriff's office during Arpaio's 22-year tenure. Some settlements resolved lawsuits filed over the treatment of inmates in Arpaio's jails and the sheriff's failed corruption investigations of political foes.

The settlement Wednesday applies only to the lawsuit over the 13-year-old girl. It's unknown whether other victims in the botched investigations have filed similar lawsuits.

The sheriff reflected on the legacy of the botched investigations at a news conference Wednesday that was called to discuss a jail beating and animal hoarding case that resulted in the neglect of several cats and dogs at a house.

"We're talking about old history, but sometimes you learn from old history," Arpaio said of the bungled cases. "You try to do everything you can to hope that it never happens again."

He said he hopes the settlement money will go toward helping the victim and characterized the case's resolution as a good business decision, considering the girl's family had sought $30 million.

The sheriff apologized in December 2011 for the bungled cases, and his office has since said it has moved to clear up the investigation and taken steps to prevent the problem from happening again.

An internal review attributed the failures to understaffing and mismanagement. A former supervisor says her investigators were pulled away from time to time to help with training efforts and Arpaio's immigrant-smuggling squad.

The girl's case was reopened in June 2011, leading to the suspect's arrest. In the end, he pleaded guilty to one count of child molestation and two counts of attempted child molestation and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

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