Law firm to examine report on D.C. police handling of sexual assault cases

February 13, 2013

An international law firm with former prosecutors and attorneys experienced in sex crime cases will review a Human Rights Watch report that alleges District police failed to document and investigate scores of sexual assaults.

D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells, the head of the public safety committee, enlisted the help of Crowell & Moring, with 500 attorneys in seven U.S. cities and four countries. The firm is providing its services free of charge.

Wells said in a statement that the law office “will conduct a thorough and thoughtful analysis of those allegations” made by the rights group last month. D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has disputed the report’s findings.

No timetable was released, but Wells said in his statement that the review of both the report and the police response will come before the committee takes any action.

Wells has promised a public hearing on the matter, and both police and Human Rights Watch have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an internal investigation. Representatives from the rights group and Lanier’s office have said they will cooperate with Crowell & Moring.

Lanier has been going through the Human Rights Watch report compiling information to counter their claims. On Wednesday , Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham said his staff has now located nearly all the 170 sexual assault cases the group says were missing.

Newsham said they were properly filed but that the group missed them because their methodology was flawed. He said the next step is to determine what happened to those investigations. Already, he said police have found that arrests were made in some, showing they were handled properly. At least 18 involved women who sought treatment at a D.C. hospital but were attacked in a suburban jurisdiction, meaning the investigation was handled elsewhere.

The Human Rights Watch report also concluded that police treated victims of sexual assault poorly, tried to convince many to not pursue cases and did poor investigations on others. They also said police improperly classified reports in order to downgrade crime.

Lanier and the author of the report have repeatedly clashed, and Wells has said the law firm can offer an independent analysis getting beyond politics and rhetoric.

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