A Tucson police detective who resigned from the department last year failed to properly investigate dozens of child sexual and vulnerable-adult abuse cases, allowing “dangerous suspects” to walk free, newly released police documents show.
The Tucson Police Department’s office of professional standards began investigating Lisa Lopez in April 2016 after her supervisor suspected Lopez engaged in “serious investigative misconduct” during a vulnerable-adult case, according to documents from the investigation into the detective.
A comprehensive review of Lopez’s past cases revealed 36 cases were mishandled or “lacked a full investigation,” according to the report, obtained by the Star through an open-records request.
“It became very clear that Lopez intentionally and consciously made the decision to not properly investigate cases where children and vulnerable adults were victimized,” Lt. Eric Johnson wrote in his review of Lopez’s case. “She even admitted during an interview that she was aware one of the suspects in a case was still at large and was likely reoffending.”
“Ms. Lopez has no business having the authority and responsibility of a police officer,” Johnson wrote in the report, dated Sept. 23, 2016.
The investigation was completed in September — weeks after Lopez resigned — with the department’s chain of command deciding the 19-year veteran should be fired.
“We take these matters extremely seriously, up to the point that we will even terminate employees that violate these policies and procedures,” said Mike Silva, police chief of staff. “There’s a series of measures of oversight that are in place, both from a process standpoint and supervisory standpoint, that are designed to identify these kinds of issues.”
When issues are identified, there are serious ramifications, Silva said.
“This is a situation where we have an investigator and it’s bad behavior, there’s no getting around that,” he said. “What we have to do in all these circumstances is punish accordingly and discipline accordingly.”
Silva said that while Lopez’s situation was an egregious example, issues like these are extremely rare.
“We really didn’t have any choice but to terminate,” he said.
“No actual investigative steps”
A review of the 30 vulnerable-adult and six child sexual assault cases showed Lopez violated general orders in nine categories a total of 72 times. The violations include untruthfulness; on-duty conduct; reporting requirements; authority of police officers; accuracy and timeliness; evidence handling; prohibited uses of property; code of ethics and department values; and obedience to general orders.
Lopez, who was a detective for 12 years, failed in multiple cases to record interviews with either victims, suspects or witnesses, and, in some cases, Lopez never conducted the interviews.
When there were recorded interviews, many times Lopez never placed the interviews into the case file, the report said. Investigators also found that in several cases, Lopez never entered any evidence into the system and in one case destroyed evidence that she didn’t think was of value.
It was even noted that Lopez appeared to take “no actual investigative steps” in some of her cases.
Lopez’s “complete lack of conscience and sympathy toward the most vulnerable” people in Tucson is unforgivable, Johnson wrote in his review.
“Her refusal to utilize basic investigative procedures all but guaranteed victims were likely to be further victimized, and very dangerous suspects were allowed to walk free and make this community a less-safe place to live,” Johnson wrote.
In one instance, Lopez took numerous missteps in a case involving the alleged molestation of a 5-year-old girl by her mother’s boyfriend, according to TPD documents.
In April 2012, the child’s mother called police to say she saw her boyfriend inside of her daughter’s bedroom “playing,” and shortly after, the girl disclosed that the boyfriend had been molesting her every night.
Lopez was contacted by officers the night the report was made but didn’t respond to the scene, saying she’d be out the next morning, TPD documents show.
When officers told Lopez there could be physical evidence in the victim’s bedroom, Lopez told the officers to tell the child’s mother to leave the bedroom “as is” and not touch anything.
The officer contacted a sergeant to express concern over not collecting the evidence and was told to take photographs and collect the items. At no time did Lopez submit any evidence in the case for forensic examination.
When confronted by investigators about why she didn’t respond to the scene the night the report was made, “Lopez took a long pause and then stated that she did not really remember the conversation because it was early in the morning,” the report said, adding that records show that officers arrived on scene shortly after 7:30 p.m.
When pressed on the issue, Lopez said, “All I can tell you is that I made the decision I made.”
She told investigators she never submitted evidence for forensic testing because the Pima County Attorney’s Office never asked her to.
The night the report was made, officers also identified a second possible victim and reported this to Lopez, who said she would interview the 10-year-old child later. Investigators were unable to locate any documentation to show she ever spoke to the second victim. When investigators contacted the mother of the 10-year-old victim, they were told that Lopez contacted her a year after the incident was reported to police.
Although Lopez obtained an arrest warrant for the suspect, she failed to have it properly recorded with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and it was never entered into state and federal law enforcement databases. The report also shows that Lopez made no attempts to apprehend the suspect.
“As a result of the arrest warrant not being properly recorded, the suspect has not been apprehended for this offense for over four years, leaving him free to potentially victimize additional children,” according to the report.
Lopez told investigators she thought she had enlisted the U.S. Marshals Service help to track down the suspect, but when she was told the warrant was never entered, she acknowledged that she couldn’t have asked for the marshals’ assistance.
Lopez said not having the warrant recorded was unintentional, the report said.
At the completion of the office of professional standards’ investigation, the case was turned over to a sergeant in the child abuse unit and an arrest warrant was issued last year.
It’s unclear if the suspect has been apprehended, as his name was not listed in the report.
Two years later, Lopez was assigned to investigate another case involving the younger victim, but it was unclear from the report if the girl was talking about the 2012 case or a new incident. The victim’s mother told police her daughter had been spending time with a male neighbor and she had found them in bed together, after which she disallowed contact between the two.
Lopez didn’t conduct any interviews in the case, telling investigators she relied on the Department of Child Safety’s investigation to determine that there wasn’t a new incident, but never got a copy of the report or even the caseworker’s name.
During the nine months she had the case open, Lopez said she did nothing more than try to contact the mother and speak with DCS.
“She admitted she did nothing to identify the suspect” and “agreed in the interview that it would be easy for someone looking at her investigation to conclude that she did nothing” to further the investigation, the report said.
The Star could not locate Lopez for comment.
A series of faulty investigations
Other flawed investigations, according to TPD investigators, include:
- In 2015, Lopez was assigned the case of a 73-year-old group home resident who reported being tied down and beaten with a horse whip, but investigators were unable to locate any recorded interviews or even a case file for the investigation.
- In 2016, Lopez was assigned the case of a 20-year-old man in a wheelchair whose school nurse observed what she thought were signs of a sexually transmitted disease. Lopez went to the hospital, but didn’t interview the victim’s brother who was “possibly a suspect or at least a witness” in the case. Investigators located a recorded interview with the victim, but “at no point does Lopez ask the victim any questions.” Investigators determined Lopez did not investigate the potential sexual abuse.
- In 2014, Lopez was assigned to investigate the attempted sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl by a 17-year-old boy who was a resident at the girl’s group home. Although there is documentation that a Child Advocacy Center interview with the victim was conducted, Lopez never entered the interview into evidence and the case was closed due to the missing interview.
- In 2015, a young woman told police she had been raped by her 20-year-old boyfriend when she was 15, and had a child as a result. Lopez conducted no interviews, despite previous cases from 2013 and 2014 “in which information was previously reported about the suspect getting the victim pregnant.” Her supplemental statement says there was “no physical evidence of assault” despite the fact that “there was a child conceived from the alleged assault,” the report says.
- In 2013, a 15-year-old girl called 911, saying her father attempted to rape her, with a portion of the attempted assault captured on the 911 recording. Lopez documented in her report that she attempted to contact the father, but he was uncooperative. She wrote that she “will be” issuing a warrant for the man’s arrest. Investigators said while it appeared Lopez obtained the warrant, she never had it officially recorded in Pima County Justice Court. Two years later, Oklahoma Child Protective Services contacted authorities in Tucson regarding an 8-year-old boy who said he was sexually abused by his father when he lived in Arizona. The father was identified as the same suspect in the previous case.
In additions to concerns about Lopez’s work, investigators discovered she wasn’t following orders about when and where she was supposed to report for duty. Lopez had been primarily working from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office but was ordered by her supervisor to work from TPD headquarters instead.
“Concerns arose as to whether Detective Lopez was in fact working her scheduled 40 hours per week and what location she was working from,” the report said.
Police investigators tracked Lopez’s key card and login use at the Attorney General’s Office from Feb. 1 through April 22 and found six workdays showing no activity for Lopez, “likely indicating that she was not in fact at work on those scheduled days,” the report said.
The documents state that while her performance was not a direct result of failures by her supervisors, there were several issues that contributed to the situation. Those included that she did not work in close proximity to her supervisors, that her supervisors did not have direct knowledge of what Lopez was investigating, and that Lopez “was afforded the autonomy to conduct investigation with minimal supervision.”