MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A report reviewing current policies and procedures concerning sexual assault kits was released Tuesday. It includes recommendations “to ensure all kits are appropriately collected, maintained and tested going forward.”
Mayor A C Wharton hired former U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman-Davis to investigate what led to the backlog of more than 12,000 rape kits.
She visited the storage facilities where the untested kits are kept; interviewed law enforcement, criminal justice leaders and personnel, advocates, forensic analysts and government officials; and reviewed documents that provide historical and current perspectives, as well as media coverage.
In her report, she acknowledges WREG’s role in uncovering the backlog.
“I think that because they started asking questions, that played a large role in getting (the report) done,” Coleman-Davis told us. “And the other part is that…Memphis, they knew it was not the only city that had this problem and other cities had begun working on the problem…So I think it played a fairly significant role that the press made…put some attention to it.”
The report states the backlog didn’t happen overnight, and that multiple factors contributed to the problem.
As leadership changed throughout the years, there was “no malice, wanton disregard or conspiracies to ignore established policies, procedures or standard practices.” However, “there was a general and collective failure to understand the importance of DNA testing.”
“I think the point I was trying to make is that because there were multiple administrations, multiple changes in police directors, multiple changes in victim advocacy groups, rape crisis, MSR…those changes from administration to administration led to varying degrees of paying attention to or not paying attention to the sexual assault kits,” Coleman-Davis said. “That’s what I meant, that it took some time for somebody to say, ‘We have to take care of this now and look to see what the real problems are.’”
For years, rape kits were only tested if needed for the prosecution of a particular case.
“When cases, whether it’s rape cases or any criminal cases, are not processed, it’s not a good thing obviously for the victims, but by the same token, if the only purpose is to place blame, that doesn’t move us forward very far,” Coleman-Davis said. “Victims, surely they’re upset, but I think at this point and time they ought to be have some comfort in knowing that this is going forward, that it’s not going to happen again.”
Since TBI only has three scientists qualified to test kits, sexual assault kits are being sent to a private lab, Cellmark. Even with the kits going to Cellmark, it may take up to five years to clear the backlog. New kits are now sent to Cellmark within 96 hours after a victim is examined.
More than 2,000 kits have now undergone serology testing. Those results become a profile that identifies a single person. The profiles must go through TBI, then are entered into the FBI’s national database (Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS). Some backlog profiles have already matched people who have previously been charged with sexual assault.
“I think the city is also wise at this point and time to go ahead and test all the rape kits, and it’s going to take time and cost money,” Coleman-Davis said. “Seeking the money for that is no small feat, but I don’t think they are going to give up on that.”
Of the estimated $6 million needed to test all of the backlog kits, $2 million has been secured. Once the city raises another $3.7 million, it will receive $750,000 from the Plough Foundation.
Joyful Hear Foundation is helping victims and “engaging the community in addressing the issue, assisting in training law enforcement and advocates on victim notification and providing Heal the Healer Training.”
The kits stored at Old Allen Station and 201 Poplar will be moved to the Harvester site after a $1 million expansion is complete.