A federal agent who requested a transfer out of Arizona after no one was arrested for allegedly molesting his two young children in 2016 says he and his wife are speaking out about their ordeal in hopes it will spur the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office to give more consideration to the case, and to those of other children in the county.
“We never expected special treatment; just for them to thoroughly investigate the case and interview the witnesses,” says the father. “They haven’t even interviewed our children’s nurse practitioner, whom the children disclosed horrific details to, back in 2016. You have to conduct interviews and collect evidence to solve cases.”
On Friday, the agent and his wife Lesley Kirk released a two-minute trailer of a planned full-length documentary titled BROKEN which addresses the family’s four-year struggle to see two former neighbors arrested for the alleged rape, sodomy, and torture of their two- and three-year-old children. Arizona Daily Independent is not naming the neighbors as they have not been charged with a crime.
The name of the father is also not being published to protect the children’s identity, while Kirk is the mother’s professional name.
In the BROKEN trailer, the children’s father says he is “absolutely convinced” his children were molested by the neighbors who often babysat for the family. So why wasn’t anyone been prosecuted for molesting the children, or at least arrested?
According to Kirk, a lack of training about sex crimes against very young children may have initially impacted the handling of the case and then led to members of the sheriff’s office “sweeping this under the rug.”
It is a claim Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels vehemently refutes, and he says the family’s criticisms about the handling of such a delicate investigation have stung him on both a personal and professional level.
“As a parent myself, I respect that these parents want to protect their children and bring closure to what they are reporting to have occurred,” Dannels told Arizona Daily Independent on Friday. “I also respect the criminal justice system and know that we cannot proceed on opinions or beliefs but rather we must depend on facts to sustain the rule of law.”
A review of dozens of public records shows the investigation started in April 2016 with the neighbors named as suspects. CCSO detectives even executed a search warrant that month at the neighbors’ home and arranged for a forensic interview with a child abuse specialist.
But the children’s young ages at the time, and the lack of direct physical or eyewitness evidence, provided no probable cause for an arrest, according to the records. It was a conclusion both Dannels and Cochise County Brian McIntyre agreed on, even though they knew it was not the answer the family wanted to hear.
A short time later, the father asked his federal employer for a job transfer out of Cochise County to ensure his children would not encounter the neighbors. In time, the genesis for the BROKEN documentary took hold and Kirk created a production company Digital Justice Films.
This week, in addition to releasing the trailer, Kirk launched a GoFundMe campaign to cover the costs of producing the documentary. She has also created a BROKEN website with information for other parents about identifying signs of child sex abuse.
“These predators are great at blending into a community and know how to trick parents, the police, prosecutors, judges, even their own families,” Kirk says. “If we can save just one child, then it’s worth it.”
But while the father says in the trailer that he believes “the mountain of evidence” already compiled would lead a jury to convict his former neighbors, County Attorney Brian McIntyre says it’s not that simple.
McIntyre, who himself is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, says he understands that the wounds of sex abuse “truly do last a lifetime” but he took an oath when sworn in as county attorney to set aside any personal feelings and only pursue cases with a reasonable likelihood of conviction.
“As prosecutors our obligation is to seek justice, protect victims, and protect the rights of the accused,” McIntyre said Friday. “If we charged every case that came to our office solely based on public pressure or personal feelings, we would violate each of those obligations.
And while McIntyre says his staff has closely worked with the sheriff’s office to pursue any and all admissible evidence of abuse, nothing presented to date has overcome an November 2016 opinion by a top child sex abuse expert that parental questioning of the children at the time may have undermined the accuracy and veracity of their statements about abuse.
Kirk has posted several public records and emails related to the molestation investigation on the BROKEN website. Those records show the parents have remained in contact with county officials in hope of an arrest. Then in late 2019, they obtained a promise from the sheriff’s office for a renewed investigation that is to include review of information from doctors and therapists who treated the children since 2016.
That investigation is now headed by Det. Joseph Gilbert, who was assigned to the case earlier this year when the original detective completed his rotation in the major crimes unit. Gilbert, who has 15 years of law enforcement experience, was specifically selected to take over the case, according to CCSO Sgt. Tal Parker.
“He was not part of this Unit during the original case work and therefore has no preconceived notions or opinions on the case,” Parker explained, adding that the matter should be ready for another referral to McIntyre’s office next month. “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and on-going investigations the length of time it has taken to get to this point is reasonable.”
EDITOR NOTE: If you believe your child is the victim of sexual abuse, Marie Fordney of the nationally accredited Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center in Tucson says it’s okay to ask the child for three simple bits of information, but the repeated questioning of a child by untrained parties can negatively impact a child’s memory or the admissibility of the statements.
“Simply ask them what happened, who did it, and where it happened,” Fordney advises. “Then stop the questions and contact your local law enforcement agency.”