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VOL. 129 | NO. 119 | Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rape Kit Backlog Report Finds No Blame

By Bill Dries

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The city’s report on the largest backlog of untested rape kits in the country concludes there was “no malice or wanton disregard or conspiracies” to ignore police and other policies governing the handling of such cases.

COLEMAN-DAVIS

That’s what former U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman-Davis said Tuesday, June 17, with the release of her report.

“This report does not affix blame because in my investigation I did not find anyone involved willfully or maliciously conspired to deny due process,” she said in the 11-page report on the backlog of more than 12,000 kits.

When Wharton commissioned the report in March, he termed the backlog a “systemic failure” and since then has said sexism among investigating police officers was probably a factor in whether victims were believed and the course investigations took.

Two lawsuits are pending in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee against the city and county as well as police brass and prosecutors over the backlog and its causes.

Attorneys for the city of Memphis have moved to dismiss both cases.

In the report, which was published on the city’s website just as City Hall was focused on a series of budget votes by the Memphis City Council Tuesday, Coleman-Davis points to policies that have changed over the years on how to prosecute rape cases and process the kits.

“I found there was a general and collective failure to understand the importance of DNA testing as was reflected in common practices in place locally and nationwide,” she said.

She also said it was unusual for the city to keep the evidence that dates back to the 1980s when other jurisdictions simply discarded their untested rape kits.

The report itself mentions criminalist Hyun Kim, who was hired by the Memphis Police Department in 1997. Kim worked with the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center and was the official in charge of the chain of custody of evidence, specifically the rape kits.

But there were two different systems for record keeping, Coleman-Davis concluded – Kim’s and the Sexual Assault Resource Center.

That was complicated when Kim died in 2010 because “no documentation could be found on anything he did during his tenure,” Coleman-Davis wrote.

The rape kits were moved to the Old Allen police station from the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center at one point and from there to other locations. It took police three months to track down all of them and begin an inventory. The earliest rape kit was from 1985.

The report also cites changes in the statute of limitations in Tennessee law for rape cases over the years of the backlog. Those changes were important because they determined whether the District Attorney General’s office would prosecute the case and prosecution played a role in whether the rape kits were tested.

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