D.C. police chief: Many sexual assault reports allegedly missing have been found

J. Scott Applewhite/AP - In an interview Monday, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham said they welcome outside efforts to look at their practices and are encouraging the Justice Department to weigh in as well.

District police said Monday that they have located documentation for at least 109 of 170 reports of sexual assault that a human rights group alleged in a report released last month were missing from the files and had never been investigated.

Officials are still culling through hundreds of files and said they are confident of finding more reports and getting to the bottom of how they were handled. The effort is part of Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s effort to debunk the Human Rights Watch investigation ahead of a possible public hearing in front of the D.C. Council and plans by a council member to enlist a law firm to conduct an independent review.

Rights group says D.C. police failed to investigate many sexual assaults

Rights group says D.C. police failed to investigate many sexual assaults

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier disputes findings of a Human Rights Watch report to be released next week.

D.C. council member plans hearing on rape report

D.C. council member plans hearing on rape report

A group has accused D.C. police of failing to document and properly investigate sex assault cases.

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In an interview Monday, Lanier and Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham said they welcome outside efforts to look at their practices and are encouraging the Justice Department to weigh in as well. After weeks of trading rhetoric with the report’s authors, the two police officials for the first time said they had uncovered concrete evidence that at least some of the most damning findings are wrong. The department has provided an e-mail address on its Web site called Voices Heard, a way to encourage women to come forward with complaints about how their sexual assault cases were handled.

Lanier said the sexual assault files weren’t missing at all, but were overlooked by the rights group’s faulty methodology.

Human Rights Watch concluded in its 197-page report, “Capitol Offense,” that police shoved scores of sexual-assault cases aside without investigating or filing proper reports, coerced victims into not filing reports and demeaned others with insensitive comments about their sexual practices. The report’s authors said they could not locate at least 170 cases of sexual assault reported to a hospital rape crisis center that they said should have been in the police files; those reports had been mislabeled as “miscellaneous” or “office reports,” the group said.

The report’s author, Sara Darehshori, said, “I stand by the quality of the investigation,” when asked to respond to Lanier’s comments. Darehshori said she is pleased that D.C. Council members — including the chairman of the Public Safety Committee and the council chairman — “are taking this seriously.” She added, “I knew this report was going to be controversial, something the chief would push back against. I went out of my way to confirm and reconfirm everything, and give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible to the police.”

Aside from claims about misplaced files, Lanier and Newsham took issue with the foundation of many other accusations in the Human Rights Watch report, which they said was based on interviews with victims and nurses whose stories were not verified. The police officials said that in many cases, they have found evidence or witnesses contradicting the accounts detailed in the report.

The two went through six cases in which Human Rights Watch provided firsthand accounts from victims. In some cases, the independent report omits crucial details from rape exams or contradictory statements the women gave, they said. In at least two cases, police pressed prosecutors for arrest warrants but were turned down because of insufficient evidence, they said.

In one case, a nurse from Washington Hospital Center, where all of the District’s rape exams are done, is quoted saying that a detective came to help a victim and then left without talking to her. Lanier said the detective came, was told the woman would be unconscious for seven hours, left and returned later.

Another case involved a woman who said she was attacked by a man with a box cutter. She was upset upon finding police wrote the report as an assault and robbery rather than an attempted rape. The woman, who yelled “rape” in the attack and whose shirt was ripped, told Human Rights Watch that the police “just didn’t listen to me. They made me feel completely ashamed of myself, they made me feel like I was lying or I was too stupid to understand what happened to me.”

Lanier said the woman was initially pleased with police until she found out how the crime had been classified. But the chief said there was no evidence of a sexual assault. “We have to have elements of the crime,” she said.

Lanier said the police department repeatedly asked Human Rights Watch to share its hospital data but the group refused until four days after their report was made public.

Lanier said that within days of getting the hospital data from the rights group, officials were able to find 109 of the cases — either as police reports or filed for investigation. She said efforts continue to find more.

The chief has complained about the methodology used by the rights group in alleging the department is missing 170 complaints. The group pulled files from Washington Hospital Center in which nurses indicated the victim either requested police or had already spoken to a detective. They then tried to match those hospital reports to police reports, using only dates, because names had been redacted, by searching 24 hours before and after the hospital report was filed.

Lanier said that within days of getting the hospital data from the rights group, officials were able to find 109 of the cases — either as police reports or filed for investigation. She said efforts continue to find more.

Police require reports to filed within 24 hours of an incident, but Lanier said that there are many reasons for them not getting into the system in that time frame. One is that a woman who first goes to police has 96 hours to get a rape exam. Lanier said some women tell nurses they’ve called police when they haven’t, and some reports get delayed in the system awaiting supervisory approval.

The chief said the files the rights group said were missing weren’t missing at all, but there all along.

“Now we know why they wouldn’t give us the information,” Lanier said. “If they had, they wouldn’t have been able to issue this report.”

Darehshori said police have had the necessary information to find all the documentation for months. “So I’m surprised they’re just finding it now,” she said Monday. “They haven’t contacted me with this new information, so I don’t know if the 109 cases they’re referring to are related to our cases, or what they are.”

 
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