Since Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor from Maricopa County, Arizona, was named as the woman who will question Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the September 27, 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, people on social media have attempted to connect her to one of Maricopa County’s most controversial former law enforcement officials: Joe Arpaio.
It’s not hard to find tweets from people criticizing Mitchell because they don’t like Arpaio, with some even going so far as to falsely say that Mitchell worked for Sheriff Joe, who was known for his immigration crackdowns and tent cities.
However, what is Rachel Mitchell’s link to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, if anything? For starters, it’s not true that Rachel Mitchell ever worked for Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Although both officials worked for years in the same county – Maricopa – Mitchell is employed by the Maricopa County Attorney’s office, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio helmed the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, which is a different agency. In the County Attorney’s office, Mitchell oversees a unit focused on sex crime and family violence prosecutions, but she’s never run the entire County Attorney’s office.
Here’s what you need to know:
Mitchell Played a Role in Handling the Aftermath of a Sheriff Joe Arpaio Controversy Over Sex Crime Investigations
There was a key way that Rachel Mitchell’s work at the County Attorney’s office had a direct nexus to Joe Arpaio over at the Sheriff’s Department: His department’s lack of proper investigation of some sex crimes.
In 2011, The Associated Press published an expose about Arpaio’s handling of sex crime cases, reporting that “more than 400 sex-crimes reported to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office during a three-year period ending in 2007 — including dozens of alleged child molestations… were inadequately investigated and in some instances were not worked at all.”
According to AZFamily.com, Rachel Mitchell was also among prosecutors assigned to figure out why some Maricopa County Sheriff’s cases were not resolved or fully investigated. “As the head of the sex crimes unit, Mitchell was one of the prosecutors tasked with finding out why hundreds of sex crimes were unresolved or not adequately investigated by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,” the newspaper reported.
A 2013 story in the East Valley Tribune placed the blame on the “system,” largely the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. That newspaper had raised concerns about the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of crimes since at least 2008.
The Washington Post reported that Mitchell was assigned to help “figure out which cases were still viable…She later conducted training sessions for the sheriff’s office, in hopes of avoiding a repeat.” The crimes dated from 2005-2007, the newspaper reported. Mitchell assumed her job as head of the unit overseeing sex crimes in January 2005 as part of an office shakeup that some criticized, according to an article in the Phoenix New Times. The article said the naming of another woman as a special assistant in the County Attorney’s office that was part of the same shakeup was “a clear signal that the County Attorney’s Office no longer will do battle with controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio over what…staffers often viewed as legally impermissible excesses.” The office was being run by a new County attorney.
Rachel Mitchell is still a prosecutor from Arizona, but she’s now on leave.
“Mitchell worked in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix as the chief of the Special Victims Division, which covers sex crimes and family violence,” reported 12News.
CNN reported that Mitchell is currently on leave from her position as “the deputy county attorney and as the chief of the Special Victims Division” in Maricopa County.
Like Sheriff Joe, Rachel Mitchell is a registered Republican, according to the Washington Post, which reports that she’s worked in the Maricopa County office for 26 years.
Chuck Grassley Praised Rachel Mitchell’s Experience as a Sex Crimes Prosecutor
In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley confirmed that Republicans on the Committee had asked Mitchell to “question the witnesses scheduled to testify on Thursday at the committee’s continuation of its hearing to consider the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the United States Supreme Court.”
In his statement, Chuck Grassley praised Rachel Mitchell’s career. Grassley said that Mitchell has “decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes,” calling her a “career prosecutor.”
He added, “As I have said, I’m committed to providing a forum to both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh on Thursday that is safe, comfortable and dignified. The majority members have followed the bipartisan recommendation to hire as staff counsel for the committee an experienced career sex-crimes prosecutor to question the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing.”
Although critics have alleged the GOP Senators just don’t want the bad optics of an all-male panel questioning Ford, Grassley gave another motive. “The goal is to de-politicize the process and get to the truth, instead of grandstanding and giving senators an opportunity to launch their presidential campaigns,” Grassley said.
“I’m very appreciative that Rachel Mitchell has stepped forward to serve in this important and serious role. Ms. Mitchell has been recognized in the legal community for her experience and objectivity. I’ve worked to give Dr. Ford an opportunity to share serious allegations with committee members in any format she’d like after learning of the allegations. I promised Dr. Ford that I would do everything in my power to avoid a repeat of the ‘circus’ atmosphere in the hearing room that we saw the week of September 4. I’ve taken this additional step to have questions asked by expert staff counsel to establish the most fair and respectful treatment of the witnesses possible.”
However, Ford’s attorneys have repeatedly objected to the Senate Judiciary Committee using an outside lawyer to question Ford. Michael Bromwich, an attorney for Ford, said previously in a statement, “This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate. Neither Dr. Blasey Ford nor Judge Kavanaugh is on trial. The goal should be to develop the relevant facts, not try a case.”