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Public officials call sexual assault stories ‘horrific’

July 24, 2018

Legislators and law enforcement leaders across the political spectrum expressed outrage Monday at reports of breakdowns in the investigation of sexual assault in Minnesota and called for measures to guarantee justice for women who report rape.

These stories of sexual assault are horrific, said state Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee. Its indefensible that cases like these, with ample evidence, would go uninvestigated.

The comments came a day after the Star Tribune published a special report documenting pervasive failings in the way Minnesota law enforcement agencies investigate sexual assault. The analysis, which examined more than 1,000 sexual assault reports from 2015 and 2016, found hundreds of cases in which police departments failed to interview witnesses, collect evidence or even assign detectives to rape cases.

At a Capitol news conference, state Rep. Erin Murphy said she would make the findings an issue in her campaign for governor this fall. Murphy, a St. Paul DFLer, called for improved training of police investigators and legislation to ensure that all rape kits are tested, among other changes.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he admired the courage of the women who stepped forward to describe their assaults and their encounters with police.

They should not have to endure more traumas, caused by the indifference or inaction of people responsible for bringing those vile offenders to justice, Dayton said in a statement.

State Rep. Nick Zerwas, an Elk River Republican who sits on the House Public Safety Committee, called the newspapers findings shocking and said he has already started researching possible legislation.

Zerwas said he wants to examine whether police need additional training and resources for sexual assault investigations. Sex assaults are some of the most challenging crimes to investigate, said Zerwas, who has worked as a forensics examiner at the Anoka County Crime Lab.

Rep. Dave Pinto, a St. Paul DFLer who also sits on the House Public Safety Committee, said he would press the states police licensing board to enact a model protocol for responding to sex assaults. He also wants to consider increasing funding for investigations.

Pinto applauded the women who came forward to tell their stories in the Star Tribune report. I was really devastated by the stories they told and appalled by the findings in general, Pinto said.

In St. Paul, City Council Member Rebecca Noecker said she called Police Chief Todd Axtell on Monday afternoon to discuss his departments handling of rape investigations.

I think its extremely disturbing to hear that victims are coming forward and are not being taken seriously, Noecker said.

Noecker said she and Axtell discussed changes the department made earlier this year, particularly the hiring of two additional investigators, after a study by the Ramsey County Attorneys Office identified several shortcomings in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases in the east metro.

Noecker said that although she felt satisfied that we have taken steps in the right direction, she wants to see if the city could devote more resources to solving sex crimes, a sentiment echoed by Council Member Chris Tolbert.

St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said all eight of the departments investigators have completed training with a psychologist who specializes in sex offender behavior and with the Midwest Childrens Resource Center on secondary trauma. The investigators are scheduled to complete an additional three-day training session in November.

Linders said St. Paul police assign all cases to an investigator, which didnt happen in several other cases reviewed by the Star Tribune.

Council Member Dan Bostrom, a retired St. Paul police officer who spent 1andthinsp;andfrac12; years investigating sex crimes, said hiring more investigators will help solve some of the problems reported by rape victims. But, Bostrom said, investigators also have to do better at keeping survivors informed about the progress of their cases.

I worked in a lot of units in the police department, and sex crimes without a doubt, with homicide, is among the most difficult, Bostrom said. Its labor intensive.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was reviewing the Star Tribune report, a spokesman said, and would comment soon.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a statement, We can and should do more for sexual assault victims, including passing the Abby Honold Act, which would help ensure law enforcement has the resources and training to respond to victims.

The act, co-sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, would provide federal grants to train investigators in the best techniques for interviewing rape victims. It is named for Abby Honold, a University of Minnesota student who was raped in 2014 and became an advocate for better police response.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said he would also support reform, though he warned it could take time. This is a start, because were calling out what isnt happening, and asking the public: Is this really what you want?

State Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, also a member of the Public Safety Committee, said she was shocked and outraged by the newspapers findings and said she expects her committee to address the issue in the next legislative session.

It was just amazing to me, Pappas said. This seemed so ... 20 years ago.

Staff writer Chao Xiong contributed to this report.

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