Mesa police officer charged with sex crimes

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Justin Cherry By Mike Gertzman Justin Cherry By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

MESA, Ariz. -- A Mesa police officer is accused of having sexual contact with two females without their consent and molesting a child under the age of 15, according to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

A Maricopa Grand Jury indictment charged 34-year-old Justin Cherry with two counts of sexual assault and one count of child molestation.

The felony charges stem from an investigation Cherry conducted while on duty. According to Mesa police, females who were detained as suspects reported in August 2013 that the officer touched them during searches.

But Monday, Cherry's attorney said the officer was only doing a routine pat-down and that one of his accuser's stories doesn't add up.

"That particular 14-year-old has given at least two or three different stories," Cherry's attorney said in court. "It was indirect touching, if anything, and it was a pat-down."

Cherry's attorney also claims the officer never conducted a pat-down on or touched the other two women accusing him of assault. His attorney says the women are drug users.

Mesa police said the officer has been placed on administrative leave.

The case was presented to the county attorney's office, and the indictment was handed down late last Thursday.

Accompanied by his attorney, Cherry self-surrendered Friday afternoon after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was being held without bond.

Cherry is a 13-year veteran of the Mesa Police Department.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement, "The alleged conduct of this defendant is not representative of the high degree of professionalism and integrity with which the Mesa Police Department carries out its duties.

"As my office has demonstrated in the past, we will not hesitate to prosecute sworn peace officers when sufficient evidence exists to support charges of criminal conduct. Those we entrust with enforcing the law will be equally held to account when they violate it."

Mesa police stated the following in a press release Friday night:

"This is a unfortunate event for the community as well as the police department. We believe that this is an isolated event and immediately placed Cherry on administrative leave upon the initial complaint. The matter has been investigated and scrutinized by the county attorney's office to ensure the appropriate charges were presented and filed.

"There is nothing more important than the trust of the citizens and community we serve. Remaining transparent, we want the community to understand that we do hold ourselves to the highest standard and will not tolerate acts of this nature.

"Moving forward, the men and women of the Mesa Police Department will continue to provide world-class police service. Mesa is a great place to live, work and play. With the support of the community, we will do our best to maintain their trust and protect our citizens."