Major testimony moving forward in rape kit lawsuit against city of Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In 2000, David Johnson broke into a stranger’s home in southwest Memphis and raped a 33-year-old woman at knife point. Now, 19 year later, he’s been convicted and sentenced for the crime.

David Johnson

It took so long because his victim’s rape kit sat untested on a shelf for years, alongside thousands of others.

“It’s sisters and mothers and cousins and friends and best friends. There are so many people in the community that know somebody that is directly affected by this,” former Memphis Police Lt. Cody Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson is testifying in a lawsuit against the city of Memphis for the rape kit backlog. It affected more than 12,000 rape victims.

On Wednesday, a former colonel who oversaw the sex crimes unit during that time had his deposition.

“I’m going to go into the deposition and respond to the questions that are asked of us, okay,” MPD Deputy Director Mike Ryall said. After the two-hour testimony, Ryall would only tell us they’re moving through the process.

But the plaintiff’s attorneys say it’s not to the level they hoped for. “He came in with a great level of forgetfulness about something that, to our clients, to our victims, is unforgettable. Something they will live the rest of their lives with,” Attorney Daniel Lofton said.

Lofton says Ryall testified to major issues within the department. He says there was no deadline in place for rape kits to be sent out for testing, and there was no system in place to keep victims informed about their cases.

Attorneys said some rape victims would go up to 20 years without hearing a word.

“It is a lifelong trauma. And when it happens and they place their case, their victim-hood, in the hands of the people they trust and that trust gets violated, it just exacerbates the trauma of the crime,” Attorney Gary Smith said.

We asked MPD if there’s been a deadline put in place since 2011 for sending rape kits out for testing. We haven’t heard back.

On Thursday morning, another person who played a major role during the backlog, Deputy Chief Don Crowe, is scheduled to have his deposition.

After that, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said they’re going to keep working to get this certified as a class action lawsuit. That would allow them to focus on a longer time frame of negligence and more victims affected by the backlog.

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