By Ken Stone
In August 2018, a spokesman for the Virginia firm hired to test backlogged San Diego County rape kits said: “The plan is on track to have the testing completed by summer 2019.”
On Thursday, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office announced the job — expanded from 1,000 kits to more than 2,000 — had been “completed.”
“I vowed we would test every sexual assault kit and we did,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan, who noted in April 2018 that $1 million would be spent on the project. Ultimately, the price came to $1.6 million.“As a part of bringing dignity to victims and accountability to perpetrators, rape kits must be tested,” she said. “Even if just a few sexual assault cases are solved, it is worth it.”
Some 2,030 rape kits from a dozen local law enforcement agencies were sent to Bode Cellmark Forensics of Lorton, Virginia. Test results have been received on nearly 90% of the kits — 1,818.
The figures do not include San Diego Police Department kits, since SDPD conducts its own testing.
Among those results, about 36% of the SART kits tested produced a full or partial DNA profile that belongs to a person who is not the victim, according to the DA’s Office, which said the testing efforts were part of a three-year project.
A DA’s press release hailed Sheriff Bill Gore and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department as key partners in the project, saying the agency has been instrumental in identifying, preparing and delivering the kits for testing.
But retired sheriff’s Cmdr. Dave Myers, who lost a bid to unseat Sheriff Gore, didn’t see cause for celebration.
“Hopefully the unacceptable delay in testing ‘some’ rape kits hasn’t led to additional victims,” Myers said via email. “Justice delayed is justice denied. The numbers [touted] by the DA do not include all area law enforcement agency untested rape kits.”
Geneviéve Jones-Wright, the former public defender who challenged then-appointed interim DA Stephan in 2017, agreed with Myers.
“The news the district attorney has finally submitted a good majority of her stockpile of rape kits for testing is nothing to celebrate,” she said Thursday night. “When I first declared my candidacy for San Diego County district attorney more than three years ago, I called for every rape kit to be tested, no matter what. I fought to make this a priority.”
She continued: “We have to ask ourselves: How many victims were denied justice over these several decades as her office let untested rape kits pile up? How about the number of survivors denied justice while [Stephan] led the Sex Crimes Unit? How many were denied justice during the three years it took her to actually start clearing the backlog in that seat?
“How many new victims were brutalized and assaulted by repeat offenders during this time? These are questions we may never know the answers to — but no matter the number, the answer is far too many.”
Jones-Wright called rape kits pileup a failure of leadership.
“It did not happen because we lacked resources,” she said. “It wasn’t because we did not have the technology. It’s because District Attorney Summer Stephan decided it was only a priority once it became a political liability for her.”
Former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, who long pressed for testing backlogged kits, called the thousands of untested kits “failures to support survivors of violence on a massive scale.”
“The next time a sexual assault is used as an example of why we need to maintain full funding for police departments, share this report with them,” she told Times of San Diego.
- Related: Of Nearly 1,000 Rape Kits Tested in DA Project, 60% Have No Male DNA
- Related: DA’s Rape-Kit Testing Effort Yields Zero Arrests So Far; Half of $1 Million Spent
She asked: How many years do these kits cover? (The previously untested kits date back to 1990, the DA’s office says.)
“How many survivors have less hope of receiving justice due to the loss of witnesses, or evidence, or a key memory of details of the crime — making their testimony even more difficult (if they ever make it to a courtroom)”? Saldaña said via email.
The results are being uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System — or CODIS — to see if there are potential offender matches, possibly leading to new investigations.
Agencies involved in the project were:
- San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, with 777 kits.
- Escondido Police Department, with 414 kits.
- Oceanside Police Department, with 303 kits.
- Chula Vista Police Department, with 141 kits.
- El Cajon Police Department, with 134 kits.
- Carlsbad Police Department, with 101 kits.
- National City Police Department, with 93 kits.
- San Diego State University Police Department, with 23 kits.
- La Mesa Police Department, with 21 kits.
- UC San Diego Police Department, with 16 kits.
- CSU San Marcos Police Department, with four kits.
- And the Coronado Police Department, with three kits.
The Joyful Heart Foundation, which works to have all rape kits tested in America, supported San Diego’s testing initiative.
“Behind every untested rape kit is a person — a sexual assault survivor — waiting for justice,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “We commend San Diego County for moving forward with testing of the last remaining backlogged rape kits.”
Said Stephan: “We should not put a price on justice. Information in these sexual assault kits may contain powerful evidence that can speak on behalf of victims and prevent a future assault.
“In the meantime, I hope sexual predators out there get the message that we will use every available tool to stop them. I’m grateful to the sheriff for his partnership and dedicating many of his resources to this project, along with the collaboration by the police chiefs that made this critical milestone possible.”
Updated at 10:08 p.m. Sept. 10, 2020
— City News Service contributed to this report
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