News 5 Investigates

Mar 2, 2014 10:00 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Guardians: Are law enforcement agencies complying with new sexual assault testing laws?

One year ago, we found several law enforcement agencies across Colorado were not sending sexual assault kits off to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, or CBI for testing.

In February 2013, News 5 sat down with House Rep. Frank McNulty, the author behind House Bill 1020. The bill requires law enforcement agencies to inventory untested kits and send them off to CBI for analysis. It also requires all new kits collected to be sent off within 3 weeks.

Four months after our February interview, Governor John Hickenlooper signed McNulty's bill into law.

However, News 5 uncovers to this day, not all police departments are in compliance.

"We work on the assumption that when a victim comes to law enforcement and goes through the additional traumatic experience of having the evidence collected, that the evidence is being submitted for testing," McNulty told News 5 in an interview back in 2013.

McNulty was outraged to hear thousands of sexual assault kits collected in Colorado were simply sitting on evidence room shelves for years, instead of being sent to CBI for testing.

"It's disappointing to me that we're not testing these kits and that we're not using that information to put predators behind bars," McNulty said.

For people like Crystal Maez who volunteers her time at TESSA, a domestic violence advocacy center, the news of untested kits is disappointing.

"It's frustrating," she said.

It's frustrating for her, because she was a sexual assault victim.

"My world came crashing down at that point in my life," she said.

The incident happened back in high school. Maez went to Memorial Hospital where a nurse collected a sexual assault kit, but she doesn't know whether it was sent off for testing.

"For me because it's in my past, it's not nearly as upsetting but if it were to happen today, and I realized that my kit was sitting on somebody's shelf for the last year, I would be very furious."

Prior to House Bill 1020, we sifted through two years worth of data to see just how many kits were sitting on evidence room shelves.

Between January 2010 and December 2012, Colorado Springs police collected 871 kits. Only 749 were sent off to CBI during that time period and could have included kits from previous years.

Roughly 122 kits were not sent off for testing during that time frame.

Because each kit can cost between $600 and $1,000 for a comprehensive exam, we asked Colorado Springs police whether cost was a factor in not sending kits off to CBI for analysis.

"Absolutely not," Sgt. Steve Noblitt said.

Police departments are not on the hook for any costs. The hospitals pay for the kits themselves, and the State of Colorado can reimburse or pay for testing and analysis costs once the kit is sent to CBI.

Colorado Springs Police say in some cases, kits aren't sent off if they already have a known suspect, or if the victim isn't sure whether they want to move forward with prosecution.

"We do what we need to do to solve these crimes and we do what's right for the victim," Noblitt said. "If there's a point where we believe this will help the investigation, then we're sending kits off to the lab for analysis."

In 2013, 279 kits were collected by Colorado Springs police. CBI only received 166, meaning 113 kits were not sent off.

We asked, "Do you feel the numbers reflect that?"

"The problem with numbers is that we still have 2013 cases we are investigating," Noblitt explained. "The detectives still have many 2013 cases sitting on their desk and so those kits may not have been sent to CBI just yet but if it's necessary they will."

To date, as many as 1,200 kits sitting in the evidence lab at the Colorado Springs Police Department may need to be sent off for testing, creating a massive backlog Noblitt assured us will be resolved this month.

In addition, all new kits collected from this point forward must be sent to CBI within 21 days.

Other agencies are also tasked with revisiting old kits. In Pueblo County, 12 kits were collected in 2013, but only 1 was sent to CBI.

Between 2010 and 2012, only 3 out of 25 kits were sent to CBI.

Perhaps the most troubling untested kit data came from the Pueblo Police Department, who just last year, told us in an email that all of their kits are sent off for testing and that they do not hold any SANE kits in their evidence rooms.

We later learned this was not true. The department told us to-date, they have a few hundred kits they need to revisit and inventory.

"There was some miscommunication that was internal on the police department's part," Pueblo Police Deputy Chief Andrew McLachlan said. "Our whole focus is compliance with House Bill 1020 and making sure these kits go up."

The Pueblo Police Department says detectives are working to go through those cases in order to be in-compliance with state law.

For people like Crystal, it's hard to understand why there was ever a backlog or delay in getting kits tested in the first place.

"I believe they (law enforcement agencies) need to figure out how to speed up that backlog because as cases get older, the evidence to me is not as strong," she said.

In an effort to test all of the backlogged kits, CBI will be outsourcing testing to meet the June 2014 deadline.

Below is data we pulled from other law enforcement agencies across the state:

Fountain PD:
2013: 6 kits collected; 1 sent to CBI
2010-2012: 38 kits collected; 13 sent to CBI

Fremont County Sheriff's Office:
We were informed Fremont County does not track how many sexual assault kits they collect or have in their evidence room.

El Paso County Sheriff's Office:
We were informed El Paso County does not maintain a record indicating how many sexual assault kits for a particular year are sent off to CBI for testing.

Teller County Sheriff's Office:
2013: 4 kits collected; 2 sent to CBI
2010-2012; 5 kits collected; 1 sent to CBI

Woodland Park Police:
2013: 3 kits collected, 1 sent to CBI
2010-2012: 2 kits collected; 2 kits submitted

Canon City Police Department:
2013: 11 kits collected; 7 sent to CBI
2010-2012: 19 kits collected; 2 sent to CBI

Pueblo Police Department:
2013: 131 assault cases; 45 kits current in evidence
2012: 151 assault cases; 48 kits currently in evidence
2011: 107 assault cases; 49 lots currently in evidence
2010: 125 assault cases; 41 currently in evidence

 

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