Two El Paso County sheriff's deputies will be disciplined after what a judge called "stunningly sloppy police work" in the case of a slain 7-year-old girl whose body was left in a Monument crawl space.
An internal-affairs investigation faulted Deputy Ralph Losasso and Sgt. Robert Jaworski for their roles in a probe that culminated with the 2010 arrest of Hanif Sims, who is due to be sentenced Tuesday.
The deputies testified to an account of Sims' confession that later turned out to be false – leading to charges of police corruption by Sims' defense attorneys. The sheriff's office, however, blames sleep-deprivation and miscommunication.
Losasso, the lead detective, will be suspended without pay for a week and placed on three-months' probation, said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. A supervisor will decide when the punishment will be served, Maketa said. Jaworski, Losasso's supervisor, will receive a letter of reprimand.
"When your credibility is in question, that's very dangerous," Maketa said.
Sims, 31, was offered a last minute plea deal in February on the day he was to begin trial for the first-degree murder of his daughter Genesis Sims. He faces a 27- to 40-year sentence instead of a possible life sentence – raising questions over whether he got off easy because of the detectives' mistakes. Sims pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death.
Sims' ex-girlfriend Monique Lynch is serving a 27-year sentence. She, too, had been charged with first-degree murder, but that charge was dropped in exchange for her guilty plea to a lower charge and a promise to testify against Sims.
The hunt for Sims and Lynch began when a work crew found Genesis' plastic-wrapped body beneath a Monument townhome months after her family left Colorado. The El Paso County Coroner's Office concluded she was the victim of a homicide, but said her body was too decomposed to determine a cause of death.
Sims and Lynch each accused the other of inflicting the fatal injuries.
According to court records, Jaworski and Losasso said Sims admitted during a July interview in Henderson, Nev., that Genesis might have been buried alive – in what would essentially amount to a murder confession. After repeated court hearings, however, 4th Judicial District Judge G. David Miller found that an audio recording of the disputed interrogation established that wasn't true.
Losasso and Jaworski previously testified that an audio recording didn't exist, but prosecutors managed to track one down on a voice recorder belonging to a Henderson police detective who lent them the device.
In a withering critique, Miller said it wasn't clear if the detectives were lying or guilty of "stunningly sloppy police work."
The judge declined to dismiss the case against Sims, however, ruling it would be too harsh a penalty and wouldn't serve the interests of justice.
Maketa said Monday that an internal investigation concluded his detectives breached protocol but found no evidence of willful dishonesty.
Maketa said Losasso was suffering sleep-deprivation and should have taken a break before attempting to interview Sims.
Jaworski was faulted for failing to provide adequate supervision.
Losasso, who was reassigned to the patrol division pending the outcome of the internal-affairs investigation, will remain in patrol for "the foreseeable future," Maketa said. Losasso's harsher penalty came because he was the lead investigator, and because he was linked to two earlier cases involving missing audio tapes, Maketa said. The Gazette previously reported that one of them involved another murder case. Unlike the Sims case, however, the earlier lapses didn't jeopardize investigations.
Maketa said Jaworski had no prior violations and will remain a supervisor in the sheriff's major crimes unit. His letter of reprimand will stay in his personnel file permanently. The letters are taken into consideration for promotions and new job assignments.
The fallout from the Sims investigation also led the sheriff to order a full audit of the more than 30 cases pending in the sheriff's major crimes unit, which Maketa said found no similar lapses.
Maketa said he prescribed new protocols for taping and documenting interrogations. For example, detectives must save audio recordings even if they believe the recordings are inaudible.