Plea For Help: Victims now have better chance to be heard by judges

13 News Investigates uncovers a flaw in pretrial system
KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 10:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Efforts continue to fix flaws in the Pima County Pretrial system after 13 News discovered a breakdown in victim notifications after an arrest.

The Pima County Sheriff has vowed to fix the problems that existed in his department.

This all stems from our investigation into Gracie McDonough’s strangulation case.

The suspect is Angel Carmona Rodriquez, who is her ex-boyfriend and the father of her child.

He had been released after his initial court appearance.

But McDonough never got the chance to appear before the judge, which is her constitutional right, because she didn’t know about his initial appearance.

It’s a flaw in the pretrial system that’s now changing.

Confusion within the system kept vital information from Gracie McDonough.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department admits they got it wrong on who’s responsible for notifying a victim of an arrest.

“I want to thank you for alerting me to a problem that’s been existent. Did we miss this one? Yes, we did. Will we fix it? Absolutely, we will,” sheriff Chris Nanos said.

The breakdown could be a contributing factor in why initial appearance judges are not hearing from some of the victims.

“Victims probably call in 10% of the time,” presiding magistrate judge Tony Riojas said.

And the sheriff didn’t waste any time examining the internal issues, starting with what is known as the booking card when the suspect enters the jail after an arrest.

“The booking card has all kinds of dates for victim notification. Maybe we need something like that for initial appearances as well,” Nanos explained.

He pointed to the current form for traffic tickets at the bottom of the document.

“At the bottom we say ‘was the victim notified’? How? At home? In Person? That’s on our (traffic) tickets. Why don’t we have it for something like this? Everybody who’s booked in that should be a question asked and answered and signed off,” Nanos said.

Another source of confusion is the pamphlet given to victims of crime.

A deputy handed one to McDonough the day of the incident.

The document covers victim rights and provides resource contacts, but it’s a bit confusing on exactly who is responsible for notifying victims after an arrest even if it’s days or months later.

For example, it states “as a victim some rights are given to you automatically and some rights need to be requested by you”.

But it’s unclear whether notification of an arrest is an automatic right.

“We will take a look at all of this and revamp some of this as well,” Nanos said.

And I also discovered the Tucson Police’s pamphlet is worded differently.

It states that victims must register, or opt in, to be notified of an arrest.

Both adhere to state laws, but victims in Pima County are receiving different messages.

Tucson police chief Chad Kasmar said it would be more effective is law enforcement agencies were more uniform in their messaging to victims.

“This is absolutely something that we need to make time to talk about and we should have a more unified approach,” he said.

And, Nanos and Kasmar said, that conversation should happen between all law enforcement agencies in the area.

“I know the sheriff’s on board and I’m on board,” said Kasmar, “And I think all of the rest of our public safety partners in this region will be on board as well.”

But there’s another flaw in the system.

It’s an important piece of information about the victims’ views that Judge Riojas is not sure the initial appearance judges are receiving.

That’s coming up next week.