Ohio AG clears backlog of rape kits, IDs 135 Springfield suspects

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has cleared a backlog of sexual assault examination kits across the state after seven years, leading to 135 individuals being identified as people of interest in Springfield cases.

When Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called for untested sexual assault kits in the state to be voluntarily submitted to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at no cost, 280 agencies sent in nearly 14,000 kits, including 367 from the Springfield Police Division, according to a state report.

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By March 2016, 43 hits had come back from the Combined DNA Index System regarding Springfield’s caseload. As of Feb. 1, that total increased to 135.

Once Springfield’s older kits that were part of the state initiative came back from BCI, Police Chief Lee Graf said the division screened through the results and have closed some of the cases involved while others are still being pursued.

“Some of the cases tied to these came back and the individual had already been arrested,” he said.

One case involved a person who had been arrested on a separate felony charge, Graf said, and already was incarcerated.

No kits were submitted from the Clark or Champaign County Sheriff’s Offices, according to the report. Officials from the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lt. Kristopher Shultz of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said information about suspects involved in sexual assaults is constantly communicated between precincts in and around the county.

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“Any time we have an identifiable suspect, we work together to apprehend them,” he said. “Once we get that information back on that suspect, there would be immediate contact with the agency where that individual is located to go and make an arrest.”

Other Ohio cities also have seen cases closed because of the initiative. More than 4,400 backlogged kits from Cleveland were sent to BCI, resulting in more than 2,000 hits in CODIS. Of those hits, about 650 people were indicted on sexual assault charges in Cuyahoga County, said Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.

Part of the reason the process took so long was that BCI continued to receive the evidence from jurisdictions across the state until 2016, Del Greco said.

“We didn’t get all the kits on day one,” she said. “But when the attorney general started this initiative, he expected BCI to get maybe 2,000 or 3,000 kits.”

Once the agency realized the scope was much broader than anticipated, DeWine formed a specialized unit within BCI to focus on the old kits, Del Greco said. Originally the unit had four forensic scientists but that increased by 10 in 2015.

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Even though it took seven years to test the entire backlog, Del Greco said new technology allowed the unit to process the kits more quickly than anticipated.

“It takes several days to test these kits,” Del Greco said. “If a kit has more evidence, it can take longer than average.”

When the initiative began in 2011, typical turnaround time to get tested kits back to their originating agencies was about 125 days. As of January, that time had been reduced to 23½ days, she said.

Senate Bill 316, which was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in 2014, required all sexual assault examination kits over a year old to be submitted to BCI and any future kits to be submitted to a lab within 30 days of a law enforcement agency determining a sexually oriented crime has been committed.

Although the law requires kits to be sent for processing, agencies aren’t required to report what comes from the results such as arrests and indictments. Some give the statistics voluntarily, Del Greco said.

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The Springfield Police Division has complied with the law since it was passed, Graf said, and currently doesn’t have any backlogged kits in storage.

Since the state initiative started, more than 13,000 new kits have been submitted to the bureau, including ones from Springfield. Graf said the police division submits all sexual assault kits to BCI, even if there isn’t a victim in the case who is willing to come forward.

“We send things regardless of criminal activity,” he said. “The victim has the right not to report a crime and we have to respect that victim’s rights.”

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Even if a victim decides not to pursue charges, Graf said hospitals are required to turn over all sexual assault kits to the police department. The kits then stay on file for up to 30 years.

“Just in case down the line they change their mind and they decide they do want to report and file charges, that kit has been tested and can be used,” he said.

Law enforcement is aware that some victims of sexually based crimes are embarrassed, Shultz said, and don’t come forward right away because they’re too ashamed. But police are there to help victims, he said.

“Any crime is a violating experience for the victim, but to have that crime committed on one’s own body is unfathomable,” he said. “But we understand and we’re not here to judge. Our goal is to arrest and prosecute the people that commit these crimes, not shame anyone.”

By the numbers

367: Sexual assault kits test by the state from the Springfield Police Division

135: Individuals identified as people of interest in Springfield cases through state testing of backlogged sexual assault kits

280: Agencies statewide that sent in sexual assault kits

14,000: Backlogged kits tested by the state over seven years

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