St. Joseph County addresses untested sexual assault kits

Indiana
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A northern Indiana county is working to improve policies to ensure sexual assault examination kits are tested.

The State Police released a statewide audit in December saying St. Joseph County had the most untested kits in Indiana with almost 480, some dating back to 1990.

County Prosecutor Ken Cotter launched an investigation into the issue and found some kits had been tested since the audit, leaving more than 410 untested kits.

About 330 of the kits weren’t tested for valid reasons, including victims requesting not to proceed, a conviction in the case, victims saying the original allegations were inaccurate, victims refusing to cooperate or anonymous cases, Cotter said.

The roughly 80 remaining kits have been sent for testing and the cases assigned to detectives. Some of those kits weren’t tested because detectives didn’t realize they never sent them to the lab. Three detectives were fired from the county Special Victims Unit because of that mistake, Cotter said.

“I don’t believe there was any ill will,” Cotter said. “It was frankly people made mistakes, but that’s not good enough. It’s my job to ensure those mistakes are caught in time.”

The county is changing policies to ensure all non-anonymous kits are tested. Officials are creating a tracking system to monitor all cases that have a sexual assault kit to ensure a deputy prosecutor has reviewed the results. A yearly audit of kits will also be conducted to ensure none are overlooked.

The findings of the investigation are disappointing, but it’s an opportunity for officials to make improvements, said Linda Baechle, CEO of the YWCA North Central Indiana, which offers counseling to sexual assault victims.

Baechle said she appreciates the steps taken “to look into what really happened here, to try to drill down and find out who’s accountable and to try to ensure that it doesn’t happen again and I think at this point that’s all we can do.”

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