SFPD audits sexual assault kits after I-Team investigation

May 13, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
San Francisco is one of a handful of cities that mandates all sexual assault kits collected as evidence must be tested, but an exclusive I-Team investigation shows there are still untested kits from years ago just sitting on the shelves. When Heather Marlowe was assaulted in May 2010, the ordinance had not yet passed.

"I think something really bad happened to me today. I think that I was drugged. I think that I was raped," Marlowe told her friend as she could barely stand.

Marlowe had attended the 2010 Bay to Breakers. It was her first time at the race. She says while there someone drugged her drink. Hours later she woke up in a strange house with a man telling her to leave.

"I was in complete shock and trauma and had no idea what was going on," Marlowe explains.

She went to San Francisco General Hospital and got a four-hour long sexual assault examination.

"It's not pretty. It's not. It's very invasive after having a huge trauma happen to you," she says of the examination.

Marlowe remembers a San Francisco Police detective saying her sexual assault kit would be tested soon.

Months turned into years and Marlowe's kit remained untested. At one point, SFPD informed the case was not a priority.

Noyes: "Isn't that hard to hear?"
Marlowe: "Yeah, it's horrible to hear."

The San Francisco Police declined to speak about Marlowe's case, citing confidentiality. The department's handling of sexual assault kits has changed in recent years.

"Every kit that we get at the crime lab is tested," according to San Francisco Police Captain Dan Perea.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance in December 2010, mandating the SFPD test every sexual assault kit. The ordinance set up a goal for the kits to be tested within two weeks.

"The measures put in place at our crime lab since 2010 have all but guarantee there won't be another victim like Marlowe that has to wait," says San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr.

We found the SFPD did not go back and test kits collected before the 2010 ordinance. In fact, 196 untested kits from 2009 and 2010 are in SFPD's property room. After our investigation, all 196 cases are being reviewed.

SFPD is also conducting a full audit of its property room to see how many untested sexual assault kits are there from before 2009.

We asked other Bay Area law enforcement agencies how many sexual assault kits are in their property rooms. Like in San Francisco, we found these agencies have kits sitting on shelves.

Law enforcement agencies in Alameda County have about 2,000 untested kits in property rooms throughout the county. San Jose has 1,835 kits. Sunnyvale has 207 in its property room. The City of Santa Clara has 49 untested kits.

"The kits that we do send down are where there is physical evidence located during the exam and we have a who-done-it type of case. We don't know who the perpetrator is," according to Captain Dave Pitts of Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety.

Agencies we spoke with say sexual assault kits are not tested when the suspect is known and consent is not an issue, they believe no biological evidence has been collected or if the victim does not want to move forward with a case.

"When we are able to identify sex offenders, we prevent other victims," says Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley.

O'Malley is working on getting her county's 2,000 untested sexual assault kits to a lab for testing. But it's not cheap -- it costs $800 to $1,200 to test a single sexual assault kit.

Back in San Francisco Marlowe wrote a one-woman show about her assault. She says an audience member pressured the SFPD to finally test her kit two and a half years after her rape. She believes without that pressure, her kit would be still sitting in the San Francisco Police property room. Marlowe says she can't believe there are so many untested kits in the Bay Area.

"There's part of me that glazes over, you know, it's just so hard to hear," Marlowe says.

No one has been arrested in Marlowe's case and SFPD has not given us a timeframe for when it will complete its property room audit.

To give you an example of what can happen when a city tests all of its kits, Detroit officials say after testing only 153 of its property room backlog, they caught 20 serial rapists. They were identified and caught because of testing every kit, and that's the important point.

Check out Part 2 of our investigation here. We look deeper into how Bay Area agencies are handling their sexual assault kits.

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