Memphis Police Neglected Rape Kits, Asked Victims To Wear GPS Devices

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The Memphis Police Department didn't just neglect to investigate sexual assault cases but also muzzled officers from talking to rape advocates about them.

 

 

A former police lieutenant has blown the whistle on Memphis Police Department for deliberately failing to investigate sexual assault cases. The gross neglect is still happening to this day.

Cody Wilkerson, a 26-year-old veteran of the force, said he complained to the top brass of the department repeatedly about the red flags he was seeing in rape cases but everyone refused to listen to him. The problem escalated so far that police administrators told him to keep quiet about the neglect or not talk at all to advocate for rape victims at the Rape Crisis Center.

“It was making the police department look bad,” Wilkinson testified.

The former lieutenant described a sloppy record-keeping system and said many detectives would intentionally close rape investigations without even doing a follow-up on leads even after rape kits produced DNA matches on the suspects. Instead, the information on the suspects would go to what the police department called “cyberspace” without any accountability.

He also harshly criticized one Col. Marcus Worthy who served in the sex crime unit.

“Every single investigator in the DNA unit, including myself, has (re-)investigated cases where Marcus Worthy did absolutely nothing on his cases. Yet he gets promoted to colonel. And then he’s put in charge over the DNA unit that’s re-investigating cases where he did absolutely nothing,” he said.

Wilkerson said convicted rapist Sammie Grant is an example of why rape kits need to be followed up on. Grant repeatedly raped a woman during a burglary in 2006, however, the victim’s rape kit was never tested. Grant walked free and went on to rape two more victims, including a 3-year-old girl.

Wilkerson’s testimony came in a deposition hearing as part of an ongoing lawsuit against Memphis Police Department for mishandling rape kits for three decades. It was revealed in 2013 that 12,000 rape kits had never been tested.

The police department has also been accused of an “an alleged pattern of misconduct towards female victims of crime.” According to Raw Story, the Sexual Assault Kit Taskforce revealed dozens of sexual and domestic assault victims were offered GPS ankle bracelets. The report said the 17 sex crime and 52 domestic abuse victims were asked to wear the devices, which are very similar to the ones given to people on probation, parole or out on bail.

 

According to the Memphis Police Department, the idea is the police officers can be alerted when suspects come within a specified distance of the victims. However, civil rights advocates believe this logic is flawed.

Ankle bracelets for victims “makes it seem like she’s the accused,” said civil rights lawyer Carrie Goldberg explained. “And I don’t like that.”

However, the police department has asserted the GPS devices are not worn on ankles and victims are not forced to wear them.

“It’s super small and they can take it with them when they want to,” said Major J.D. Smith, Memphis Police Department Commander of the domestic violence unit. “You can even decide to leave it at home, but it’s up to you.”

Still, the idea of asking victims to wear a device seems a bit off.

“If somebody accused of rape is enough of a risk that a victim would need to wear a safety monitoring device,” said Goldberg, “then perhaps it would make more sense to rethink that [perpetrator’s] being on the streets in the first place.”

Banner/Thumbnail: REUTERS, Finbarr O’Reilly

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