WOMEN: Unprocessed Rape Kits in NM Part 2

REPORTER: The first time Captain Andi Taylor heard about thousands of forensic evidence kits from sexual assault cases not being tested by the labs was when a public records request came into the Bernalillo County Sheriffs Department. An assistant asked her what to do with all of the police reports.

ANDI TAYLOR: [0:09] I wasnt aware that we had this problem. It was my belief that the kits were being turned in, and they were being tested by the APD crime lab. Thats what I thought this entire time.

Taylors been the commander for the criminal investigations division of the department for a little over a year. Sixty detectives, eight sergeants and three lieutenants report to her.

ANDI TAYLOR: [0:07] What I did is I took on 488 reports, and we have a war room in the back here. Theres a huge pile of reports.

Some of them date back to the 80s. But some of them are pretty new, too, Taylor says. She started poring over each police report that was associated with an untested evidence kit from Bernalillo County, one by one.

ANDI TAYLOR: [0:15] Its hard. Its funny. I just kind of welled up with tears a little bit. Its very hard to read some of these cases because its absolutely disgusting. And I have survivors in my family.

Taylor is sorting them into categories. The most urgent pile includes recent assaults where survivors arent sure who attacked them, and where DNA might crack the case. The DNA is also entered into a national database.

Taylor says the FBI has agreed to analyze 30 kits from Bernalillo County in March.

ANDI TAYLOR: [0:09] We are going to do our absolute best to bring closure to these cases and to figure this mess out and to get results from these kits.

When a new kit comes in, Taylor now gives it the same priority as a homicide and orders it to be driven to the lab in Santa Fe. Thats because at the Albuquerque lab"the only other place in New Mexico where kits are tested"the so-called backlog is thousands deep.

One of the biggest problems, Taylor says, is money. Money for advocates to reach out to survivors, money for the labs, money for detectives to investigate these cases, money to run trials and prosecute offenders. Not to mention that the cost of testing one kit at the state lab is between 400 and 500 dollars.

ANDI TAYLOR: [0:07] Listen, anything is better than nothing. Im at the point where Im ready to go have a bake sale to raise money to test these kits.

Taylor also rewrote the vague, three-sentence policy about what detectives are supposed to do with sexual assault evidence. Only about one-fifth of law enforcement departments in New Mexico have a written policy, according to a statewide audit.

Connie Monahan of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs has been leading the charge on getting kits sent to the labs to be tested for years.

CONNIE MONAHAN: Law enforcement agencies"theres no way they could not have been aware of a growing pile of brown bags and white envelopes in a corner of their evidence rooms.

Theres even a law on the books in New Mexico that says when a police report is filed about a sexual assault, and theres an evidence kit, it has to be tested.

CONNIE MONAHAN: [0:19] Where we are now was totally preventable if people had followed the law. But you cant just have a law. You have to have the policy that says when you are delivering the samples youll do it within X number of days, the time, the process. Youll have this form filled out.

The policies are lacking, Monahan says, and that leaves the decisions about evidence up to individual officers. Which can be a problem if a detective doesnt believe the victim. The audit found that was one common reason kits arent sent for testing.

CONNIE MONAHAN: [0:14] Why do we allow one person to have that amount of power and judgment in determining what happens next?

Monahans helped bring about a mandatory hour of training on biological evidence and sexual assault for every officer in the state.

She says theyve got to start convincing officers that testing the DNA in these kits and logging it into the national database is important. Its how serial rapists are caught all over the country"and right here at home.

Then its up to the states prosecutors to get a conviction.

For KUNM, Im Marisa Demarco.

 


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