Woman seeks answers as police lab backlog causes delays
OREGON CITY, Ore. (AP) — Nearly a year after telling police she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance who she suspects drugged her with LSD, an Oregon woman is still waiting for the lab results and for authorities to conclude their investigation of the alleged attack.
Juliette Simmons told police of the assault last December. Simmons says she blacked out and then woke up in the passenger seat of her own car with the man over her.
The Associated Press does not generally name victims of sexual assaults, but Simmons told The Oregonian/OregonLive that she decided to go public with her name and her case to highlight the extraordinary delays in processing evidence from sexual assault kits.
Oregon has spent more than $1 million to hire new staff to address the backlog, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported .
“Nothing has been happening with my case,” she said. “I feel like there needs to be attention brought to what’s lacking in how rape cases are handled.”
The captain who oversees the Oregon State Police crime lab told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the delay is unacceptable.
“In nobody’s mind is that OK,” said Capt. Alex Gardner.
The sexual assault kit from Simmons’ exam was submitted to the state police crime lab on Dec. 28, 2016.
Oregon’s stockpile of thousands of untested sexual assault kits is a longstanding problem that the Legislature tried to address last year with Melissa’s Law, named for Portland teen Melissa Bittler, who was killed in 2001 by a serial rapist.
The law is intended to ensure sexual assault evidence is tested in a timely way. The state got $1.5 million to hire nine DNA and biology evidence technicians, bringing the total number of staff who analyze the kits and other evidence to 44.
But Gardner said training new staff has taken more than 18 months and required the assistance of current employees, taking them away from analyzing kits themselves.
The agency has chipped away at the backlog even as thousands of new cases stream in, Gardner said.
So far this year, the lab has received about 26,500 requests to analyze a wide variety of evidence, such as firearms, fingerprints and DNA. Of those, 2,123 were for DNA, the majority of them in sex cases.
As of this week, the lab has a total backlog of 1,197 requests for DNA, an estimated 800 or so related to sex crime investigations.
Gardner said 20 “higher priority cases” are ahead of Simmons’ case.
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com