PHOENIX, April 9 (UPI) -- Arizona's Maricopa County will pay a $3.5 million settlement to the family of a girl, whose sexual-abuser walked free for nearly five years, while the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office ignored physical evidence.
Patrick J. Morrison, 51, pleaded guilty in 2012 to three counts of molestation against his niece, who is developmentally disabled. She first reported the molestation in 2007 to her middle-school counselor, according to The Arizona Republic.
Officers immediately investigated the matter and retrieved evidence. A nurse said there were no obvious signs of sexual assault.
Later in the investigation, collected evidence appeared to show samples of semen on some items.
Instead of collecting a DNA sample from Morrison for comparison, investigators closed the case, labeling it as "inactive" in early 2008.
The case is part of about 400 sexual-abuse and sexual-assault cases the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office confessed to mishandling between 2005 and 2008.
Morrison was sentenced to 24 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised probation, but the family feels it wasn't enough.
"I wanted him to get life," the victim's mother, Vikki Morrison, said.
"Money can't replace the fact that my daughter and family are traumatized forever," she said. "Family means more... than any amount of money."
During the five years when Patrick Morrison was free, the family of the victim did not believe the sexual-abuse ever occurred. He was allowed access to his victim.
The Morrison family sued Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
"When Patrick Morrison denied the incident as ever happening, the lack of further action by the Sheriff's Office cemented in the Morrisons' minds the initial finding that there was no evidence of rape and correspondingly eroded any credibility they might have accorded their daughter's story—a young girl beset by significant mental limitations," the lawsuit stated. "The level of psychic pain this child was forced to endure is both unconscionable and unforgivable."
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he believes sexual crime cases are no longer "falling through the cracks."
"We've done some re-organization and hopefully nothing like this ever happens again," Arpaio said.