Rape kits untested in Kentucky, destroyed in North Carolina

Posted at 12:59 PM, Sep 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-26 12:59:19-04

(CNN) — Two more states are now in the spotlight for failing to handle examinations in alleged rape cases.

DNA from what are known as rape kits can be used to help identify suspects, strengthen criminal cases and exonerate those who are falsely accused.

More than 3,000 of those kits have never been tested in Kentucky. A state audit blamed a lack of adequate resources.

Kentucky is one of more than a dozen states and cities counting and testing rape kits, state auditor Adam Edelen said Monday.

“The result of this count is we now know that the number of untested sexual assault kits in Kentucky is 3,090. And it’s important for a moment to get beyond just the number, and to understand that these really do represent the most fragile of human lives,” he said.

An audit at the Fayetteville Police Department in North Carolina determined that 333 rape kits from unsolved assault cases were destroyed to make room for evidence, authorities said Monday.

The destroyed kits were collected between 1995 and 2008, Chief Harold Medlock said.

“I’m distraught, I’m frustrated, I’m angry that one person won’t get justice because of our practices,” Medlock said at a news conference. “We can’t put this issue on anyone but us.”

North Carolina’s Cumberland Country prosecutor Billy West told CNN that no one with the police department will face charges for destroying evidence because, according to a state law, no one intended to do it.

He declined to comment on whether a victim whose rape kit was taken during the years in question would have a civil claim against the department.

Nationwide, estimates are that at least 400,000 rape kits are sitting untested in labs around the country, according to the Department of Justice. The federal government this year invested $41 million to help reduce that number and get the kits tested. Rape kits consist of swabs, containers and glass slides that medical professionals use in the often hours-long examination of a survivor’s genitalia and other intimate areas of the body just after an assault.

In Kentucky, the average time to analyze sexual assault evidence submitted in 2014 is eight months, and that time is increasing, said Edelen, the state auditor.

“This is unacceptable,” he added. “Far too many rapists are walking the streets while the evidence needed to put them behind bars is collecting dust.”

Besides clearing the backlog, the state auditor hopes changes will be made in Kentucky. He called for more and better training for law enforcement, that nearly all rape kits be submitted for analysis within 10 days of booking them into evidence, and for reform and more resources at the state crime lab.

Edelen estimated it would take an initial investment of $3 million to $5 million in the first year, and $2 million in recurring costs after that.

“When a victim has the courage to undergo an invasive and traumatizing exam after an assault, he or she deserves to have the evidence in that sexual assault kit analyzed,” he said. “One of government’s fundamental responsibilities is to bring these rapists to justice.”

A nationwide problem

Concerns about the handling of rape kits have been raised across the nation.

Georgia’s largest hospital, Grady Memorial in Atlanta, failed to inform police of rape kits that were taken from patients, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper reported.

In a sweeping investigative story, USA Today in July reported that there were tens of thousands of rape kits that had gone untested across the United States.

The newspaper said that hundreds of kits were never tested in places such as Muncie, Indiana; Visalia, California; St. Cloud, Minnesota; and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Numerous law enforcement agencies have never counted the untested rape kits in their evidence rooms, and most states have not taken an inventory, the newspaper said.

This month, the Manhattan district attorney announced that $38 million in civil forfeiture money would be used to pay for the testing of 56,000 rape kits that had gone untested for years in 20 states, according to The New York Times.