Tag Archives: rape

Norris, Cohen talk on rape kits at Memphis conference

Memphis has gone from a cautionary tale for its handling of untested sexual assault kits to a model for other cities, state Sen. Mark Norris said at a summit on the issue Monday.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:
Following his address at the second annual Sexual Assault Kit Summit for Cities at the Cook Convention Center, Norris said the more than 12,000 untested sexual assault kits Memphis had at its peak were a “prologue, not a backlog.”

Memphis has become an important example for other cities wrestling with the same problem, said Norris, the Senate majority leader and sponsor of three laws since 2014 to erase backlogs in Memphis and across the state.

“It’s not just a Memphis problem or a Tennessee problem,” Norris said. “It’s a national one. And they’re looking to us for best practices.”

Reporters were turned away from the closed meeting, which brought together representatives from 13 other cities to talk about best practices for reducing backlogs. Dewanna Smith, spokeswoman for Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, said the meeting was closed to media to allow the free exchange of information between participants.

Congressman Steve Cohen, who also spoke at the summit, criticized the event organizers for closing the meeting — a move he said “made no sense whatsoever.”

Even though the city has taken steps to reduce its backlog, it still faces two class-action lawsuits filed in 2013 and 2014 over the city’s initial handling of the kits. Cohen said the city failed to protect women from serial rapists by not processing the kits.

“We were a model in ineffectiveness at first because we had one of the biggest backlogs going,” he said.

Cohen helped the city get $4.1 million in federal money for testing, while Norris helped push through laws that required a statewide inventory of sexual assault kits, that repealed a statute of limitations on cases reported in the first three years, and one that goes into effect this January that requires kits to be processed in 60 days.

At the end of August, Memphis had completed analysis on 5,250 kits, 42 percent of its original backlog. The other kits were either at the laboratory awaiting analysis (18 percent) or needed additional analysis (39 percent).

DCS employee charged with statutory rape of 15-year-old

A 56-year-old Knoxville woman is accused of molesting her boyfriend’s teenage son while working as a paralegal for a state agency tasked with protecting children, reports the News Sentinel.

Mary Lisa Woods is set to appear before Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee later this month on three counts of statutory rape by an authority figure and four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure.

Woods worked for the state Department of Children’s Services for more than 14 years. She was serving as a paralegal with the Knoxville office of the agency when, in 2013, she allegedly began molesting the 15-year-old son behind her boyfriend’s back and continued even after the boy’s father died last year, records show.

DCS spokesman Rob Johnson said Woods resigned in lieu of termination in February after a monthslong probe by the DCS Special Investigation Unit and Internal Affairs as well as Knoxville Police Department Investigator Keith Johnson.

Johnson emphasized Woods, as a paralegal, had no supervisory role over children while employed at the agency.

Victim rights advocates oppose media access to Vanderbilt rape case records

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Four victims’ rights groups are asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to rule against a coalition of news media organizations, including The Associated Press, that is fighting to get access to some of the records in a high-profile rape case involving four former Vanderbilt University football players.

The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/1JM40ZY ) that the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the Tennessean Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, the National Crime Victim Law Institute and the Sexual Assault Centers are asking the court to consider the victims before releasing police records to the media.

Cellphone video recorded graphic images of the June 2013 rape. The media are not seeking the graphic footage. Nor do they want to identify the victim.

The media organizations are seeking access to text messages, including those between coaches and players after the rape.

Rep. Butt apologizes for ‘mistake’ in saying rape and incest ‘not verifiable’

State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, has apologized for remarks she made about rape and incest during the House debate about an abortion amendment, reports the Columbia Daily Herald.

Butt said she voted for abortion bills during the legislative session because they were common-sense restrictions for the health and safety of girls and women in Tennessee. The bills passed the House and Senate and await Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature.

The Maury County legislator raised eyebrows, though, with comments she made during debate over whether to exempt victims of rape and incest from the 48-hour waiting period. Butt said, “This amendment appears political because we understand that in most instances this is not verifiable.”

(Note: This touched off a round of criticism, initially from Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, on the House floor. Previous post HERE. And state Democratic Chairman Mary Mancini said Butt was The amendment failed but not before Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, translated Butt’s comment as: “In other words, women are liars.”

Butt told The Daily Herald she was arguing the amendment did not include language requiring victims to provide evidence or substantiation of rape or incest. She apologized for erroneously suggesting that rape and incest could not be verified

“On Monday, when I realized the legislation was being presented, I had a quickly written statement in response to an amendment that a colleague was trying to put on the bill,” Butt said. “The amendment would have waived the restrictions in cases of rape and incest. It was not a viable amendment because it did not include any evidence or substantiation of rape or incest.

“I was speaking only to the amendment,” she added. “Instead of reading what I had written on the notes, I used the word “verifiable” instead of “verified.” I intended to say that in most cases rape or incest is not verified at an abortion clinic. Of course, we know that rape and incest can be verifiable, and I am grateful for that. I misspoke in my comments on the House floor, and I am sorry for the confusion that has caused.”

Butt said she’s “open and honest” with her constituents “and always will be.” Part of the relationship is admitting mistakes, she said.

“We all make mistakes,” Butt said. “We all disagree on things. However, we can disagree with civility and respect and without hatefulness and contention and work together on the things on which we do agree. As a community and as human beings, we owe each other that.”

Democrat criticizes Rep. Butt for saying rape and incest ‘not verifiable’

State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, has drawn criticism for a remark during floor debate about exempting victims of rape and incest from a 48-hour waiting period for abortions, according to The Tennessean.

Butt opposed the amendment that would have added those exceptions, saying on Tuesday:

“This amendment appears political because we understand that in most instances this is not verifiable.”

The amendment failed during a contentious debate over the waiting period measure that is now making its way to the governor’s desk for his expected approval, but on Wednesday, Rep. Sherry Jones, a Nashville Democrat, rose to publicly criticized Butt’s remarks from the House floor, calling them “dangerous and insulting.”

“Yesterday we heard a lot of unsettling things on the floor, from bogus descriptions of women’s health clinics to a member of this body actually saying that the violent crimes of rape and incest are, quote, not verifiable,” Jones said.

“There are 206,000 women in Tennessee who unfortunately can attest to the fact that rape and incest are too verifiable. Those women have endured horrors that we cannot imagine, and for it to be said the violent crimes they suffered are not verifiable is to suggest that they are somehow not legitimate rapes. That’s dangerous and it is insulting to say the very least.”

Butt responded by suggesting she was not being quoted accurately:

“I rise to say that when we quote our colleagues on this floor, I think we respect each other enough to quote each other properly, and I did make a comment yesterday that there are times when those things are not, so let’s make sure we are quoted properly on the floor,” Butt said. “I appreciate that and I would do that for you.”

Working off rape test kit backlog, Memphis police ID 19 rapists

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Officials say nearly 5,000 of 12,000 backlogged rape evidence kits have been tested in Memphis, leading to dozens of indictments.

Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s office says investigations have resulted in 52 indictments of known individuals or their DNA profiles. From those indictments, 19 alleged rapists have been identified, including 14 believed to be multi-case offenders.

Experts say Memphis has one of the nation’s largest known backlogs of rape kits, and Wharton created the Sexual Assault Kit Taskforce to work through them. Rape victims have filed a lawsuit over the untested kits.

The taskforce says 4,892 backlogged kits have been tested since they were discovered in 2013.

The city has allocated $4.25 million and the state has given $1 million for testing.

Of the 19 identified rapists, 14 are considered multi-case offenders, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Of the 19 rapists indicted after the investigations, 10 were in prison for other crimes, two were in jail awaiting trial for other crimes and seven were arrested.

The city allocated $4.25 million and the state gave $1 million to test the kits, which include evidence of sexual assault such as body fluids and hair.

On Haslam dodging a ‘rape kits’ question in Memphis (he doesn’t have much authority, you know)

Interesting perspectives from Memphis TV reporting on Gov. Bill Haslam responding to a question on the backlog in processing “rape kits.”


Governor Bill Haslam doesn’t have a lot of power in state government. The lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house have more clout when it comes to things. Still, he is the governor. Who knows when to get involved. Or when it comes to the untested rape kit issue, knows when to stay out of it.

“Obviously, primarily those are local issues. But we’re looking. Senator Norris is taking the lead. We’re looking to see what role the state can play in all of that,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said.

So we follow the passed buck over to state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville. He has been working on the rape kit issue and continues to do so.

“Just last week I met with the director of the TBI. I met with the commissioner of finance. We got our inventories back in from all jurisdictions that have these forensic evidence kits,” Norris said.

Money is a huge problem. In Memphis alone, it will cost more than three and a half million dollars to do complete tests on the remaining ten thousand kits. Other Tennessee cities and counties have a problem too, by the way.

“We’ve got to be very methodical and strategic about how we move forward but its very encouraging that the federal government will make resources available as well,” Norris said.

And, from WMC-TV:

Memphis Police Department discovered more untested kits in a storage facility Sept. 16; it’s now a total of 12,360 backlogged rape kits dating back to 1976. More than 5,000 of the kits have now been processed.

“Are there different procedures? The state can say this is the way it should happen everywhere … That we might look at a piece of legislation,” Haslam said.

…Norris revealed how long it would take to end the backlog.

“If Governor Haslam could write a check for the full amount today, we estimate it would still take as much as three years to complete the testing,” he said.

Some citizens stepped in to donate their own money to the cause. Real estate developer Nick Brown presented the city with a $10,000 check to help with the problem.

TBI reports 9,062 untested rape kits statewide

In accord with a law approved earlier this year, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has turned over to state legislators an accounting of untested rape kits on police shelves across Tennessee that shows 9,062 untested kits statewide, reports the News Sentinel.

The Memphis Police Department accounts for 77 percent of those, with 6,942 rape kits that have not been submitted to the TBI for testing.

The Legislature passed a law earlier this year requiring TBI audit untested rape kits as reports surfaced of hundreds of thousands of such untested kits across the nation and, closer to home, some 12,000 in Memphis.

The Legislature did not, however, provide additional funding for testing that costs — per kit — $500 or more depending on the materials submitted and the analysis required.

The TBI bears that cost in its taxpayer-funded budget.

KCSO Capt. Brad Park, who heads the forensics unit, and KPD spokesman Darrell DeBusk said cost to state taxpayers is a factor in the process to garner approval for DNA analysis.

“It’s very expensive,” DeBusk said. “The (Knox County District Attorney’s Office) has to provide a letter of prosecution or we can’t submit it.”

Park added, “We want to find evidence so we can prosecute (an offender), and (the TBI) is saying we want to know if you’re going to prosecute them (before conducting an analysis). The DA is kind of the middleman.”

A rape kit consists of swabs taken from anyone who alleges he or she has been raped. It may also include clothing or other physical evidence that might produce a relevant DNA sample.

DeBusk said there are some cases in which DNA analysis is unnecessary — as in the case of a victim who knows his or her alleged attacker — or pointless — as in the case of a victim who refuses to prosecute or cannot be located.

From the Commercial Appeal:

Following Memphis were Knoxville’s 394, the Jackson Police Department with 249 untested kits, Metro Nashville Police Department with 200, Shelby County’s 179, Knox County Sheriff’s Office with 126, Hamilton County with 104 and Chattanooga Police Department with 99.

Three university police agencies reported untested kits: the University of Tennessee Knoxville with 18, most collected since 2004; East Tennessee State with four dating to 1998; and Tennessee Tech with three dating to 2006.

Deborah Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women’s Council, said the report also raises questions about the evidence-kit disposal policies of the majority of agencies who reported no untested kits. “Memphis and the other communities still have the opportunity make something out of this forensic material, but it is my belief that kits are thrown away much sooner and with some regularity in some jurisdictions.

New lawsuit filed over untested rape kits

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Three women who were victims of a serial rapist in Memphis have filed a new lawsuit in state court alleging city and county officials were negligent by allowing thousands of rape kits to go untested for years. The action comes as they drop similar claims in federal court.

Attorney Daniel Lofton, who is representing the women, told The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/1AR0IBa) that the new suit would avoid the “shakier ground” in federal court, which doesn’t have the same legal precedent for the alleged constitutional violations.

He said the new lawsuit seeks relief under a state law that allows people to sue government officials for negligence.

“The city is a couple of light years away from the best practices that we expect our experts to be able to prove are being used by a majority of comparable jurisdictions,” Lofton said.

County Attorney Marcy Ingram the county does not comment on pending litigation.

City spokeswoman Dewanna Lofton said in a statement that the city would seek dismissal of lawsuit.

In an emailed statement, city spokeswoman Dewanna Lofton said, “…While we will not comment on pending litigation, please note that the Plaintiffs dismissed their own suit in the face of the City’s (and other defendants’) motions to dismiss because we believe they accurately realized they had no viable Federal claims. The City will be seeking dismissal of the State claims, as well.”

Report on Memphis rape kit backlog finds ‘general and collective failure’

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — No single individual is responsible for a backlog of 12,000 rape kits that sat untested for years in Memphis, a report said.

A report compiled by former U.S. attorney Veronica Coleman-Davis says no one maliciously or wantonly allowed thousands of sexual assault kits to remain untested since the 1980s.

Instead, the report attributed the problem “to a general and collective failure to understand the importance of DNA testing as was reflected in common practices in place locally and nationwide.”

Word of the backlog emerged last year, and it has led to a lawsuit from rape victims.

Memphis has one of the nation’s largest known backlogs, experts say. Thousands of the backlogged kits have since been tested, and authorities are working to identify suspects from the evidence and charge them, officials say.

There are efforts to raise the estimated $5 million to $6 million needed to fund the entire process, with $2 million already secured, the report released Tuesday said.

“The caseloads are already high, and burn out is and will be a challenge in addressing the untested kits,” the report said. “Funding will be needed to increase staffing.”

The Joyful Heart Foundation, a national organization with experience in dealing with rape kit backlogs, has been enlisted to help in the testing process.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. thanked Coleman-Davis in a statement.

“Her neutral approach and independent findings give me confidence that our plan to get all untested kits tested is on target and that we will be successful in our efforts to seek justice for the survivors,” Wharton said.