Maricopa County is filled with victims who aren’t getting the Preston Lord treatment

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell in 2022. Photo by Gage Skidmore (modified) | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

During a March 6 press conference in Queen Creek, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell announced the arrests of four persons for the murder of 16-year-old Preston Lord. Three more arrests came the following day.

Mitchell called the arrests a “great leap forward” in obtaining justice for Lord, who was badly beaten by a group of teenagers at an Oct. 28 Halloween party in Queen Creek. He died two days later from his injuries.

The media has linked Lord’s murder to a spate of juvenile violence in the southeast Valley, connected in part to a group referred to as the “Gilbert Goons.” 

On Lord’s killing alone, Mitchell said her team spent “hundreds of hours logging and receiving evidence,” including the Queen Creek Police Department’s 2,000-page report on the homicide, as well as 600 videos submitted by the department. 

The county attorney explained that her office impaneled a special investigative grand jury on Feb. 7 that issued subpoenas and took testimony from witnesses. This is unlike an ordinary grand jury that hears several cases a day.

If you have any doubt Lord’s homicide received special scrutiny, consider Mitchell’s words at a Jan. 24 press conference at her office in downtown Phoenix. 

Mitchell told reporters pressing her about the Lord investigation that she had met with Lord’s family, something she admitted she ordinarily does not do. And she was receiving daily briefings from her staff on their review of the evidence. 

Asked how many in her office were working on the Lord case, Mitchell declined to give a number, but she said she had investigators, prosecutors, support staff, victim advocates, criminal analysts and paralegals dedicated to the case.

Considering the media feeding frenzy and the public outcry over Lord’s murder, it’s not surprising that Mitchell, who is running for reelection this year, would devote so much of her office’s resources to the Lord investigation. 

However, most homicides in Maricopa County do not receive the Preston Lord treatment. That’s significant, because there is a lot of bloodshed in this county.

According to the most recent statistics from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, there were 283 murders and non-negligent homicides in Maricopa County in 2023. The bulk occurred in Phoenix: 198 per the Phoenix Police Department.  

By contrast, DPS stats show that the Gilbert Police Department reported four homicides in 2023. Chandler reported seven. Queen Creek reported zero. (Apparently, Lord’s homicide has not yet been added to the count.) 

The MCAO’s online “data dashboard” further reveals that five of Phoenix’s eight police districts referred more cases to the MCAO for prosecution than Queen Creek, Gilbert or Chandler. 

Hands down, these three cities are some of the safest places to live in Maricopa County. They are also quite affluent. Phoenix’s poverty rate is higher, its median income is lower.

And yet, the Preston Lord case and the Gilbert Goons have dominated local media in the past few months. 

This is not to say the public should not have been outraged or that the press should not cover the case. But I can’t help but wonder: Where is the outrage for Phoenix’s dead? Where is the media firestorm, demanding that Mitchell avenge the fallen?

Sure, the squeaky wheel gets the WD-40. I witnessed that at Mitchell’s Jan. 24 press conference, where the only name on nearly all reporters’ lips was Preston Lord’s. One local news station had three reporters present to question Mitchell about Lord. Another news outlet sent two.

Journalists practically demanded indictments from Mitchell. To her credit, Mitchell pushed back, pointing out that she could not just indict anyone she wanted.

Reporters asked her about legislative attempts to ban brass knuckles, which were reportedly utilized in some Goon attacks. 

Mitchell replied that, with or without a ban, there would always be a weapon when it came to murder, be it fists or feet. 

I recently interviewed a mother in west Phoenix about her son, who she lost to gun violence. She said she wished the attack on her boy had been done with brass knuckles instead of a Glock. Then he might still be alive.

Phoenix’s crime problem is aggravated by the Phoenix Police Department’s manpower shortage. The department is down more than 560 officers. Its cold case homicide unit has three sworn officers and two civilian investigators — and more than 3,000 unsolved homicides.

As for gangs in the Valley, former DPS Director Heston Silbert recently told me there are hundreds. The MCAO’s data dashboard lists law enforcement referrals tied to 29 different gangs. The Gilbert Goons is not on the list. It may be a gang, but it’s hardly the county’s most deadly or prolific.

This is not to downplay youth violence in the Southeast Valley. The public, the media and law enforcement were correct to seek justice for Preston Lord and his family. 

But Maricopa County is filled with victims and grieving relatives. They deserve equal resources, sympathy and the same indignation for the criminals who’ve harmed them.

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