Rape kits not tested

Md. back­log is 3,500; of­fi­cials dis­agree with ad­vo­cates about value

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Alison Kneze­vich and Cather­ine Rentz

De­spite a years-long na­tional push to col­lect, process and cat­a­log DNA ev­i­dence from sex­ual as­saults, po­lice in Mary­land have left more than 3,500 rape kits untested.

Ad­vo­cates for rape vic­tims say that num­ber shows that po­lice are not in­ves­ti­gat­ing all com­plaints of sex­ual as­sault thor­oughly.

“More than any other crime, sex­ual as­sault sur­vivors are of­ten dis­be­lieved or blamed for what hap­pened to them,” said Ilse Knecht, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and ad­vo­cacy for the Joy­ful Heart Foun­da­tion, a na­tional non­profit that ad­vo­cates for count­ing and test­ing all kits. “That def­i­nitely plays into this process of not fully in­ves­ti­gat­ing cases.”

But po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors say that test­ing the kits in many cases does not ad­vance an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, es­pe­cially when the vic­tim and per­pe­tra­tor know each other.

“If there’s no is­sue about who the per­son is, then DNA doesn’t re­ally con­trib­ute any­thing,” said Bal­ti­more County State’s At­tor­ney Scott Shel­len­berger.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly re­quired po­lice de­part­ments in Mary­land to report their num­bers this year to the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice and to ex­plain why kits re­mained untested. The Bal­ti­more Sun ob­tained their re­sponses through a re­quest un­der the Mary­land Public In­for­ma­tion Act.

More than 3,500 kits re­main untested, the po­lice de­part­ments re­ported. They gave sev­eral rea­sons for not test­ing kits: A vic­tim de­clines to pur­sue charges, or pros­e­cu­tors de­cide against tak­ing the case. The vic­tim al­ready knew the sus­pect, or wanted to re­main anony­mous.

The Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment re­ported 871 untested rape kits, the sec­ond­largest num­ber in the state. Mont­gomery County po­lice re­ported the most, with 1,165. Both said some date back to the 1980s.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice is set to re­lease a report on the num­bers in De­cem­ber, with rec­om­men­da­tions on what to do with untested kits.

State Sen. Karen S. Mont­gomery spon­sored the leg­is­la­tion last year that re­quired po­lice to report the num­bers.

“Women were not be­ing taken se­ri­ously enough to have kits tested and used as ev­i­dence,” said the Mont­gomery County Demo­crat, who has since re­tired from the leg­is­la­ture.

She said sev­eral vic­tims sought her help af­ter they felt their cases had been “brushed off” by po­lice.

Mont­gomery said she ap­proached those po­lice de­part­ments, and some couldn’t find the rape kits.

“They were very care­ful to be po­lite,” Mont­gomery said, “but their at­ti­tude was, ‘We don’t have time for this.’

“Un­for­tu­nately, this is typ­i­cal of Mary­land and around the na­tion.”

A rape kit con­tains ev­i­dence, such as sam­ples of blood and se­men col­lected dur­ing a med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion of a per­son who has re­ported a sex­ual as­sault.

Now that de­part­ments have re­ported num­bers, Mont­gomery said, the next step should be bet­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tions and prose­cu­tions of all as­saults — with a spe­cial ef­fort on us­ing rape kits to find and pros­e­cute re­peat of­fend­ers.

Some in law en­force­ment say rape kits are not al­ways help­ful.

When the per­pe­tra­tor’s iden­tity is not in ques­tion, Shel­len­berger said, a rape kit adds lit­tle to the pros­e­cu­tion.

“There is no dis­pute that th­ese are the right two peo­ple,” he said. “The dis­pute will be in an­other area, which is con­sent. ...

“We have to make a de­ci­sion about how to best use our re­sources. If it’s not ad­vanc­ing a case or we can’t go for­ward, then it’s not” the best use.

It can cost more than $1,000 to process a sin­gle rape kit.

Ad­vo­cates for vic­tims say there is still value to test­ing kits from as­saults in which the vic­tim knows the per­pe­tra­tor: They can yield DNA that con­nects the rapist to at­tacks in which the per­pe­tra­tor re­mains uniden­ti­fied.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice cited untested rape kits this year in its scathing report on the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment.

Be­tween 2010 and Septem­ber 2014, Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­ported in Au­gust, “rape kits were tested in only 15 per­cent of BPD’s cases in­volv­ing sex­ual as­saults of adult vic­tims.”

Bal­ti­more po­lice say the test­ing rate is much higher.

Steven O’Dell, chief of the Bal­ti­more po­lice foren­sics lab, said an­a­lysts cur­rently test be­tween 80 per­cent and 100 per­cent of rape kits ev­ery month.

The 871 untested kits the depart­ment re­ported to the state were out of roughly 7,000 kits since 1986, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment. That means the depart­ment has tested about 88 per­cent of kits it has col­lected over the last 30 years.

Capt. Steven L. Hohman Jr., who heads the depart­ment’s Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Sec­tion, said he wasn’t sure how the Jus­tice Depart­ment cal­cu­lated its num­bers, but the po­lice elec­tronic ev­i­dence-track­ing data­bases were more ac­cu­rate than the in­ves­ti­ga­tory pa­per files.

Capt. Paul Starks, a spokesman for the Mont­gomery County depart­ment, said the agency never de­stroys rape kits, as some agen­cies do, which might ex­plain why its num­ber leads the state.

De­lays in test­ing kits drew at­ten­tion in Mary­land in 2014 when The Bal­ti­more Sun re­ported on the case of a se­rial rapist who went un­de­tected.

The man raped a woman in 2012. By the time po­lice pro­cessed the DNA nearly two years later, he had at­tacked again.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama signed leg­is­la­tion this month that will give vic­tims the right to be in­formed of test re­sults from rape kits, to be no­ti­fied at least 60 days in ad­vance of any plan to dis­pose of a kit and to re­quest its preser­va­tion.

The Sur­vivors Bill of Rights Act, as the leg­is­la­tion is known, ap­plies to fed­eral crimes, not to state crim­i­nal cases.

Re­becca Camp­bell, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Michi­gan State Univer­sity, was the prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor for a Jus­tice Depart­ment-funded report on untested kits in Detroit.

“When you look at the po­lice re­ports associated with untested kits,” she said, “what you see is they of­ten didn’t be­lieve vic­tims, they didn’t do thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

The re­searchers found that in­ves­ti­ga­tors who tested rape kits in at­tacks by per­pe­tra­tors known to the vic­tims were as likely to get a match in the FBI’s DNA data­base as in rapes by strangers.

“What that sug­gests is that when you test non-stranger kits, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to find out if that per­pe­tra­tor has sex­u­ally as­saulted other folks,” Camp­bell said.

Pros­e­cu­tors in Detroit re­ported that more than 11,000 kits had not been tested in 2009.

To­day, about 10,000 of those kits have been tested.

The Wayne County pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice says test­ing has iden­ti­fied 775 se­rial of­fend­ers, and helped pros­e­cu­tors to se­cure 64 con­vic­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.