Cleveland Law Enforcement Learns Lessons in Responding to Sexual Violence from Anthony Sowell Case

Last month, we wrote about evidence contained in an untested rape kit that linked to Anthony Sowell who was, at the time, standing trial for murdering 11 women in Ohio. Sowell was convicted this week. Sentencing begins later in August.

We wanted to draw your attention to this article by Laura Strickler, an Emmy award winning journalist who produced a watershed news story on the rape kit backlog in the United States in 2009. In her coverage of the outcome of the trial on CBS News, she summarizes the numerous missed opportunities for the Cleveland and Cleveland Heights Police Departments to apprehend Sowell, a registered sex offender and subject of numerous reports of sexual assault. In one of those cases, police and prosecutors deemed the victim to be a “not credible” witness. In another, though police collected a rape kit, the responding officer allegedly failed to tell the special victims detective about the evidence and the case went cold. And as the article reports, like many jurisdictions across the United States, the Cleveland Heights Police Department did not have a computerized system for tracking rape kits.

The lessons learned form this case are many, but they came at a devastatingly high cost. The Cleveland Heights PD has already said they will be testing all rape kits that have been booked into evidence and the department now tracks all rape kit evidence on a computer, according to the article. As well, Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine has convened a task force consisting of law enforcement officials, prosecutors and advocates to discuss standardizing rape kit practices across the state and to determine best practices.

The full article can be read at CBS News.

You can also read the interview reporter Laura Strickler gave to the Backlog Blog earlier this year here.

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