“In April 1995, two sisters in their late teens reported to police that a family member had molested them as young children during sleepovers at his house in the 1980s.
The man they accused was a Mesa police officer, Gerald “Jerry” Salcido.
Later that year, Mesa police closed the molestation investigation against Salcido, with no charges brought.
But more than 20 years later, the case was reopened and police arrested him. Among the information included in the police report was that at least three Mormon bishops, one in Phoenix and two others in Utah, had learned of the allegations against Salcido years before.
Salcido, who refused to answer a Mesa detective’s questions during an October interview, denied he confessed to his bishop, police and court records show.
A Maricopa County grand jury indicted Salcido, 63, in January on four counts of child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor between 1980 and 1985. He has pleaded not guilty.
The accusers say the recent arrest of Salcido has vindicated them and added weight to their stories from childhood. They say police and church leaders should have scrutinized Salcido more at the time they came forward.
They question if Salcido’s ties to law enforcement led to a lax investigation because the Mesa Police Department didn’t want to investigate one of their own.
“I don’t understand who dropped the ball,” said one of the women, now 41.
The Arizona Republic in general does not publish the names of people who have alleged sexual molestation or abuse.
1995: Father takes daughters to police station
The Mesa Police Department had been plagued with sex scandals in the early 1990s, with the department scrutinized for the way it handled cases involving two of its officers who later were convicted of molestation.
By the time Mesa police began looking in 1995 at the allegations against Salcido, he had been gone from the department for nine years and was working as a sheriff’s deputy in Utah.
As children, both women had told family members they were molested by Salcido on different occasions. Initially, the girls’ mother didn’t believe them, according to the 1995 police report. But when the allegations resurfaced within the family in 1995, the girls’ father went to the police station with his daughters to file a report.
One of the women, who is now 40, told police Salcido forced her to give him oral sex when she was 4 years old, the police report says, and four years later Salcido made her masturbate him.
Her sister, who is now 41, told police Salcido also made her masturbate him when she was 8, the police report says.
After their initial interview, the case was assigned to then-Mesa Detective Jerry Gissel to investigate his former colleague. Six months later, Gissel wrote a report saying there wasn’t enough evidence to substantiate the girls’ allegations and there was “no likelihood of a conviction.”
The report provided to The Republic includes information from the 1995 and 2017 investigations. It doesn’t include any documentation on what evidence Gissel gathered, whom he interviewed or whether he consulted the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which would have decided if charges should have been filed.
Detective Steve Berry, a Mesa police spokesman, said in a recent phone interview that at the time in the 1990s, “there was not enough evidence to establish probable cause to move the case forward.”
“It is kind of disturbing that they didn’t believe her enough or to even look into another police officer,” said the brother of the women. His 40-year-old sister has a mental illness and her brother is her legal guardian.
He declined to allow his sister to be interviewed.
Gissel, who now is the chief of the Office of Child Welfare Investigations at the Arizona Department of Child Safety and has worked at the agency since 2012, declined to answer questions.
During a brief phone conversation, he said he doesn’t remember the case.
“I would have to read the report and jog my memory, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to try to speculate,” Gissel said. “Especially with all the cases that I’ve done, and I’ve done many.”
Asked if he did any follow-up investigation, he said, “I have no idea. I didn’t even know I closed it, so I’m not going to answer your questions.”
2017: Reopened after a phone call
Mesa Detective Derek Samuel reopened the case in August 2017 when the girls’ mother called to ask about it.
Samuel found the original April 1995 report and Gissel’s one-page follow-up.
Narratives the women gave to police in 1995 and 2017 are virtually the same.
According to Samuel’s portion of the report, Samuel called Gissel, who told the detective he had done a follow-up investigation, including a “confrontational phone call” and an interview with Salcido in Utah. Another detective also told Samuel he remembered the case and there was a follow-up investigation done, the report says.
But neither of them knew what happened toany of the supplemental reports that would show the evidence Gissel had gathered, Samuel wrote in his report.
The 41-year-old woman said in a phone interview that her mother contacted Mesa police last year because she wanted to ask if there was a statute of limitations on the case.
Salcido’s ex-wife and the 41-year-old woman’s mother had a conversation about Salcido and wondered if church leaders had reported the confession to police, the woman said.
Samuel wrote in his report that he didn’t find any documentation that showed Gissel did any in-depth investigation and the records division also didn’t find any. He then contacted the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors advised Samuel to pursue the case. In January 2018, police traveled to Utah to arrest Salcido.
Amanda Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the County Attorney’s Office, said she couldn’t comment or does not have information about the 1995 police report.
Salcido attorney: ‘It’s very troubling’
Salcido, who was an officer for the Mesa Police Department from 1980 to 1986, worked in law enforcement and was most recently a Utah County deputy in Provo, where he was employed for 14 years before his arrest in January.
Sgt. Spencer Cannon, a spokesman for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, said the agency was unaware of the 1995 investigation into Salcido. If the agency had known, it would not have hired him, Cannon said.
Cannon said Salcido was fired for failure to report for work shortly after the former deputy’s arrest.
Salcido’s attorney, Matthew Long, questions how Mesa police made the case against Salcido two decades later but didn’t find evidence in 1995.
“It’s very troubling,” Long said, adding, “We look forward to challenging the evidence” in court.
“There’s been only one side of the story presented to the grand jury,” Long said. “That’s just the beginning of the story, not the end of it.”
Confession to the church?
At least three Mormon bishops, one in Phoenix and two others in Utah, learned of the allegations against Salcido in 1995 and 2006, according to Samuel’s report.
While the Phoenix bishop reported the allegations to police, there is no indication the Utah bishops did the same, according to Samuel’s report.
“If this guy is confessing to his church, then what happened?” the 41-year-old woman said.
Darwin Davis, who was the Phoenix bishop for the women’s family, told Samuel last year that in 1995 the girls had told him about what Salcido had done, the police report says.
He also told the detective he had called police in Arizona and Utah, the report says, but he later learned the case had been closed. The police report says Davis had sent a letter, which the detective took in as evidence last year, to another church leader in Phoenix to notify him about Salcido.
As far as he was concerned, he told Samuel, he didn’t have any reason to believe the girls had made up the allegations.
In a brief phone interview with The Republic, he said he did call the police to report what the girls had told him.
“I did everything that I was supposed to do,” he said.
Salcido’s ex-wife, who didn’t return messages seeking comment for this story, had told Samuel that in March 2006 Salcido confessed to David Tuckett, a former bishop of the Salcido family, that he had molested the two girls, according to the police report.
Tuckett had contacted the ex-wife to tell her what Salcido had confessed, and she recounted that to Samuel. The bishop had made a list of what Salcido said he did to the girls, an account the ex-wife had written about in her journal, which Samuel collected as evidence, his police report says.
Tuckett, who is the city manager in Payson, Utah, told Samuel he didn’t remember a lot of details about Salcido’s confession of molesting the girls to him.
Tuckett told the detective that even though he didn’t recall some of the details, Salcido’s ex-wife’s account was true, the report says.
One other piece of evidence Samuel gathered was an unsigned letter written by Salcido and sent to the mother of one of the victims, apologizing for what he had done, the report says.
But the letter uses vague terms and doesn’t explicitly admit to molesting the girls, the 41-year-old woman, who also received a similar letter, said in an interview with The Republic.
Lee Pope, who at one time was also the Salcido family bishop in Utah, told Samuel he learned Salcido had been accused of molesting two young female family members in 1995 when an Arizona police detective had talked to him in person about the investigation.
Pope also told Samuel someone, whose name is redacted on the police report, called to tell him about the molestation. But when the bishop talked to Salcido about it, he denied it, the report says.
Pope also said sometime in 1995 an Arizona detective told him the case was closed, the report says.
Tuckett and Pope didn’t return phone messages seeking comment. Joseph Osmond, a Utah lawyer, who was either present or participated in the 2017 police interviews through the phone with Davis, Tuckett and Pope, referred all questions to the Mormon Church.
Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, didn’t directly answer a question why Tuckett, Pope or other church leaders didn’t contact police about the molestation allegations at the time they learned of them.
He did say a bishop in Arizona reported the case to police. He said when police contacted one of the Utah bishops in the 1990s, the church was cooperative, indicating Mesa police had made some sort of contact with church leaders in 1995.
In a statement, he added, the church doesn’t tolerate abuse of any kind.
“Upon learning of allegations of abuse, the bishop in Utah confronted the individual and then cooperated with police during their investigation. A second bishop assisted the family of the victims to report the abuse to law enforcement in Arizona,” Hawkins said. “Authorities did not choose to prosecute at that time. Years later, the Church was contacted again by authorities and cooperated with a new investigation. We are supportive of the efforts of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute this matter.”
The church excommunicated Salcido in 2006 after he had confessed to his bishop, according to Samuel’s report.
Mishandling of other sex cases
The two women had come forward with their allegations about Salcido a few years after Mesa police had been under scrutiny by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for mishandling cases involving two of their officers who were eventually convicted of molesting children.
In 1992, former Mesa officer Richard “Dick” Elliget was sentenced to 14 years in prison after his 16-year-old daughter had told an aunt her father had fondled her for four years and had taken sexually explicit photos of her. Elliget was also sentenced to lifetime probation for arranging for a teenage boy to have sex with his wife as Elliget watched.
Later in 1992, as part of a plea deal, former Mesa Officer Russell Staton was sentenced to two consecutive one-year jail sentences and 10 years’ probation for attempted molestation of a child.
Staton had resigned from the force in 1988 after allegations that he had molested children in the early 1980s, before he became an officer. Mesa police didn’t immediately investigate the allegations or notify another agency about them, according to Republic stories at the time.
Shortly after Staton’s resignation, his wife had warned Mesa police that Elliget one day would be investigated for similar crimes. But police didn’t investigate that claim, either, according to The Republic.
Women, family frustrated by the delay
The 41-year-old woman today is a stay-at-home mom, raising two daughters, 8 and 4 years old, with her wife.
The 40-year-old woman lives in a group home and is being treated for schizophrenia, which she developed shortly after making the sex-abuse report in 1995, her brother said in an interview.
“We the family are upset that a case wasn’t made 20-something years ago,” the brother said. “However at some point, the truth is going to come out, and it finally did come out.”
In those two decades, the women were accused of lying and some family members who did believe the women had been molested told them it couldn’t have been Salcido who had done it, the 41-year-old woman said.
Berry said police agencies, including Mesa police, have been better in providing empathy and resources to victims of sexual abuse in the past few decades.
For example, he said, the city of Mesa created the Family Advocacy Center in 1996 to help provide support for sexual-abuse victims and help law enforcement on how to treat those victims.
“We’re better than we were 30 years ago, but that doesn’t negate the crime,” he said. “Hopefully what people see and get out of this is that even if 30 years later new information comes forward, we want that evidence and work the cold case.”
In Arizona, there is no statute of limitations on criminal sex cases involving children under age 15.
The legal guardian and brother of the 40-year-old woman said what his sister “wants more than anything is to have the satisfaction that people will believe her.”
As for the 41-year-old woman, she said now that Salcido has been arrested, she hopes she can get closure on a traumatic event that shaped her life.
“I’ve gone through life hoping that this comes to an end,” she said. “and that there’s a resolution to this and he gets put away.”
“Most of my family didn’t believe me and my sister and we kept being told it must have been somebody else,” she said. “My story never changed and it will never change. But Jerry (Salcido) needs to be in prison.””