Sheriff Joe, Maricopa County Lead Way on Animal Cruelty

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By Jessica DaSilva

May 9 — Sitting less than 100 miles from the Mexican border, Maricopa County, Ariz., includes the cities of Phoenix and Mesa, the largest population in the state, and the only animal cruelty investigation unit in the entire country.

Animal welfare advocates seeking to get bestiality banned in all 50 states laud Arizona—and specifically Maricopa County—as the model for an effective statutory and enforcement scheme. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) told Bloomberg BNA on May 9 that the animal cruelty unit features six full-time officers, including a bestiality detective, and a non-profit animal rescue that allows inmates to care for the animals until adoption.

Since instituting the comprehensive investigation and enforcement scheme, no complaints from the agricultural industry have been lodged with the Arizona Farm Bureau, according to a spokesperson for the organization.

This story is the third installment in a series examining the legal landscape of bestiality laws in America (Part I: 99 CrL 100, 4/27/16; Part II: 99 CrL 126, 5/4/16).

Human Connection

Arpaio said he created his animal cruelty unit before Arizona had a bestiality statute on the books in response to community uproar when a group of young adults were killing cats and consuming their blood. A group of about 500 Phoenix residents attended a community meeting and demanded the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office stop the killings, he said.

Even though police never found enough evidence to charge anyone, Arpaio—who considers himself an animal lover—decided that protecting the community's animals was important in its own right.

Making animal cruelty a priority was also aimed at preventing crimes against humans, he said. Arpaio explained he knew from both experience and reading studies that cruelty toward animals often escalated and resulted in violence against humans, including domestic violence and sexual assault.

Detective David Evans, who investigates bestiality crimes for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's animal cruelty unit, agreed with Arpaio.

In his past positions in both narcotics and child sex crimes, Evans said he stumbled upon bestiality pornography and perpetrators who admitted to past sexual encounters with animals.

Yet despite the connection, Arpaio said enforcing bestiality is important on its own merits.

“It's a bigger picture, but it doesn't matter because I'm going to protect the animals,” he said.

Months-Long Investigations

Ten years ago, Arpaio said he set off on a campaign to get a bestiality law in Arizona's state code after a local elected official walked free after allegedly raping a lamb in his neighbor's barn. While the animal cruelty unit had already been in place, he said the new law gave the unit teeth to actively pursue bestiality cases.

In the decade since, Arpaio said the unit has arrested 10 individuals for bestiality with a 100-percent conviction rate resulting from guilty pleas. The latest arrest occurred on May 4, which Arpaio said was the second arrest of 2016.

These arrests are usually the culmination of months-long investigations, sometimes spanning more than a year, Evans said. Investigating bestiality cases is “more than a 24/7 job,” he added.

He said he scans websites like Craigslist and bestiality forums every day for posts advertising animals for sex or seeking animals for sex, then fires off responses to the ads. Once he connects with a suspect, Evans said he spends months exchanging e-mails and text messages before arranging a date, time, and place to meet.

One poorly worded text or delayed response can unravel months of work, he said.

“You have to keep corresponding with these people or they're gone,” he said.

Evidence and Adoptions

Once Evans said he arrests people for bestiality, animals are removed from the home and brought to the Sheriff's Office animal rescue, called Maricopa County Animal Safe Haven, or MASH. Evans said victims are split pretty evenly between dogs and horses.

Arpaio explained that when the Sheriff's Office started confiscating animals who were victims of bestiality and other animal cruelty crimes, such as hoarding or animal fighting, he realized they needed a place to house them to protect evidence and keep them safe until adoption.

To solve the problem, Arpaio said he moved human inmates into a tent city jail. That opened up the jailhouse to house the domestic animals, he added. Horses and farm animals are housed outside in similar military-style tents, he said.

“Some people accuse me of treating the dogs better than the inmates,” Arpaio admitted. “But the dogs are victims, so they should be treated nice.”

Additionally, Arpaio pioneered programs to allow inmates to care for the animals, Evans said. That includes a program that brings the dogs outside to visit with military veteran inmates, which started in April, he added.

When a bestiality victim is surrendered to MASH, the animal undergoes a veterinarian exam similar to a human rape kit, Evans said. After that, Evans said animals are treated for their physical injuries and receive human contact to socialize them for adoption.

MASH is a non-profit and no-kill shelter that runs off of donations and volunteers from the jail and surrounding Maricopa community, Evans said. When someone applies to adopt an animal, MASH conducts a home visit to ensure the pet won't reenter an abusive home, he added.

The Trouble With Success

Despite the general success of bestiality investigations and enforcement, Evans said his job is not without difficulty.

Being part of the only animal cruelty unit in the U.S. means that Evans said he has no one to call for help on cases.

Several of the arrests in Maricopa County involved suspects who traveled from outside the state, Evans said. When he worked in the narcotics unit, Evans said he could call an officer across the country to help in his investigations. Because his unit is the only one of its kind, he said he doesn't have any interstate support.

“I can't pick up the phone and call anyone because there's no one to call,” he said.

That also means that their unit is the one helping law enforcement officers encountering bestiality and animal cruelty cases for the first time, Evans said. Those agencies sometimes experience difficulty in handling such cases based on lack of awareness or resources, which he said means they service a wider area than just Maricopa County.

“If somebody calls, we go,” he said.

The unit helps law enforcement agencies figure out how to investigate cases involving bestiality pornography, how to obtain a search warrant for animal cruelty, how many veterinarians will be needed for large groupings of animals, and more, he said.

Maricopa County also gained notoriety for their effectiveness on popular Internet bestiality forums, Evans said.

With every successful case, Evans said he must disclose in his report how he conducted his investigation before the arrest.

Those disclosures led to a major online bestiality forum sending a warning to its subscribers in all 50 states to stay away from Arizona, Evans explained. A user on the website also created a checklist of ways to avoid getting caught by an undercover police officer, he added.

Whenever a new arrest gets publicized in the media, Evans said his investigations usually slow down as the suspects become more cautious. He said the few suspects he is pursuing will likely go quiet for a while after Bloomberg BNA's report.

Arpaio said the publicity won't slow or discourage his commitment to stopping bestiality.

“They’re starting to get a little smart—they think,” Arpaio said. “But we’re still working cases and we’re not going to stop.”

Agricultural Support

While agricultural interest groups in other states expressed concerns with bestiality crimes elevating animal rights in a way that could threaten the industry's livelihood, that concern is notably absent in Arizona.

Julie Murphree—communications, education, and marketing director for the Arizona Farm Bureau—wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA on May 9 that in the decade since the bestiality ban's enactment, the bureau has not received a single complaint from farmers who felt their interests were threatened.

“[T]he law protects accepted animal husbandry practices as you can clearly note upon a read of Arizona’s state statute,” Murphree wrote. “Arizona Farm Bureau is fervently opposed to the inhumane treatment of animals; this falls into that category. In Arizona, this abhorrent behavior is a felony.”

However, Murphree explained that if farmers had brought complaints to the bureau, it would represent those concerns accordingly.

Arpaio said he did not receive any opposition from the agricultural industry when he sought a codified bestiality ban in Arizona. Instead, he said he enjoys widespread community support.

While he said some people accuse him of pursuing animal cruelty crimes as a means of getting re-elected, Arpaio said his re-election has nothing to do with it.

“I can get re-elected on other issues,” Arpaio said. “I'm going on my 24th year; I'm the longest serving sheriff in Arizona. I don't get elected just because of animals.”

Yet even without that support, Arpaio said he would still investigate and arrest anyone engaging in bestiality or other crimes against animals.

“I’m going to keep enforcing these animal cruelty laws as long as I’m the sheriff,” Arpaio said. “Everybody needs to know that if you’re going to abuse animals in Maricopa County, you’re going to get busted.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jessica DaSilva at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at

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