Memphis to Host Summit on Sexual Assault Kits

By Bill Dries

The Memphis Sexual Assault Task Force will host in October a gathering of city leaders from across the U.S. grappling with a familiar problem: rape kit backlogs.

The city’s Sexual Assault Kit Task Force is hosting an October summit for other cities who, like Memphis, have rape kit backlogs. Cops, prosecutors, victims advocates and others from 11 cities across the country have been invited.

(Daily News File Photo)

Prosecutors, police officers and brass, victim advocates, medical lab personnel and city administrators from 11 cities have been invited to the Oct. 19-20 gathering at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The invitations went out to officials in Cleveland; Detroit; Houston; Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; Kansas City, Missouri; San Diego; Portland, Oregon; Seattle; Las Vegas; and Jacksonville, Fla.

Those involved in the local effort to process more than 12,000 rape kits that sat on shelves since the late 1970s attended last year’s inaugural “sexual assault kit summit for cities” in Cleveland, by the Cuyahoga County District Attorney’s Office.

The October Memphis summit will add sessions and training for sexual assault nurse examiners and public information officers.

The summit also will look at best practices among the cities in evidence collection, victim notification, the use of forensic laboratories, investigation and filing charges and case prosecution.

“Our goals are not only to test the untested sexual assault kits, but to compassionately investigate the case, bring justice and an opportunity for healing to the victims and their families, and hold offenders responsible for their actions,” reads an overview of the summit sent to leaders in the 11 cities invited. “We encourage you to bring your needs, questions, concerns and input to the summit.”

Deputy Memphis Police chief of investigative services Mike Ryall also told Memphis City Council members at a July 21 update that the processing of the rape kits has led to a “massive amount of investigations” by police and prosecutors – 614 so far – based on evidence from the kits. Requests for indictment total 106.

By the city’s count, 44 percent of the rape kits are still awaiting a complete analysis.

The latest request for indictment as a result of the work on the untested rape kits is in the case of Kelvin Stokes.

Stokes was arrested by Memphis police Wednesday, July 22, and charged with the aggravated rape of a woman in her home 15 years ago.

The victim’s rape kit was tested in 2013. DNA from her attacker was found, but there was no match in the federal DNA system. She identified Stokes from a photo line-up this past April, according to the arrest affidavit.

With a DNA sample from Stokes, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and its lab said in July that the sample matched the DNA analyzed from the victim’s rape kit.