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Toledo takes fresh look at 1,800 old rape kits

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    Toledo Officer Robert D'Agostino, with the property management section, shows some of the rape kits Toledo Police have on file in the safety building.

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  • RAPEKIT

    Envelopes of evidence to go along with rape kits are on file. Police sent 1,800 sexual-assault kits.

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  • RAPEKIT-2

    Rape kits from the Toledo Police were transported by BCI to be included in the 14,000 files throughout the state.

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  • RAPEKIT-3

    Toledo Officer Robert D'Agostino, with the property management section, shows the 2017 rape kits Toledo Police have on file Thursday, March 15, 2018, in the safety building.

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Every box, tucked away in the Toledo Police Department’s property room, has a story.

Many are sensitive stories — some that want to be told, while others want to be forgotten. 

They fit inside case number-tagged cardboard boxes or manila envelopes, filled with evidence of alleged crimes — clothing, documents, personal belongings. Even bodily samples, which are collected during a head-to-toe forensic exam performed by specialized nurses trained to recognize signs of sexual assault. 

Now — thanks to a recently completed initiative by Ohio’s highest law enforcement agency — many stories contained in Toledo’s evidence boxes will have a chance to surface again. 

Nearly 14,000 sexual-assault kits — including 1,800 from Toledo — were analyzed as part of a sexual assault kit-testing initiative completed under Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. The testing initiative was finished last month, the attorney general’s office announced.

The Toledo Police Department submitted the second-largest number of kits to the state, behind the Cleveland Police Department, which submitted more than 4,400. 

The attorney general’s office requested any kits associated with a crime, regardless of when it occurred, said an agency spokesman, Jill Del Greco. Several kits beyond the statute of limitations, previously 20 years but now 25 years, were tested, she said. 

Toledo police sent every sexual assault kit it had in its possession, said Vince Mauro, a Toledo police detective in the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force unit. That included kits that had been tested, kits that led to an arrest and prosecution — if it fit within the statute of limitations — or kits from victims who did not wish to press charges.

Detective Mauro said that it wasn’t fair to victims for investigators to determine if the case was legitimate or not. So they sent all the kits. 

“I applaud them for doing that,” said Mr. DeWine, noting DNA evidence from a suspect may turn up in a future case.

RAPEKIT

Envelopes of evidence to go along with rape kits are on file. Police sent 1,800 sexual-assault kits.

THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
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That evidence goes into a system, called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which compares DNA profiles electronically. It enables federal, state, and local forensic laboratories to exchange and compare the DNA and thereby link serial violent crimes to each other and to known offenders. 

Of the submitted kits, Toledo police had 638 CODIS “hits.” A majority of those, however, had been prosecuted or the victim did want to proceed in the case, Detective Mauro said. 

It was helpful to send all of the kits because previously unknown suspects may be linked to another crime. For example, a rape could have been committed and evidence may have been placed in a kit in 2010. The suspect may have been arrested for a felony offense in 2016, where DNA is automatically collected, Detective Mauro explained.

Before the initiative, Toledo police religiously submitted kits to labs to be tested, Detective Mauro said. Since the testing, more suspects have been identified and at least 15 arrests have been made in connection with those cases.

In April, 2016, a Toledo man was convicted of rape after DNA evidence linked him to sexually assaulting three women. 

Darnell Reynolds, 36, of the 1000 block of Mackow Drive, was sentenced to 33 years in prison for the Aug. 4, 2010, rape of a 23-year-old Toledo woman who had just been released from the Lucas County jail; the Sept. 19, 2010, rape of a 22-year-old woman who also had just left the jail after trying to visit a friend, and a July 14, 2011, sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl near Hamilton Street and City Park Avenue.

Reynolds was the first person to be indicted after the Cold Case Sexual Assault Task Force formed by Toledo police and the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office began re-examining unsolved rape cases by first sending untested rape kits to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation for analysis.

“We took it seriously the first time,” Detective Mauro said. “These were cases, where at first, the person was unknown. But since the time of the rape, the person has gotten in trouble.”

Investigators are giving victims a second chance to prosecute. However, finding the victims can sometimes be more challenging than finding the suspect, Detective Mauro said. A BCI agent has been assigned to the Toledo area to assist in investigating cases with CODIS hits, Ms. Del Greco said. 

Toledo actually has a higher rate of reported rapes per 100,000 people — 113.46 — than Columbus — 98.71. Cleveland has 126.58 per 100,000, according to data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Office of Criminal Justice Services. 

Often, once the victim is located, many stand firm in their initial decision not to prosecute, the detective said. 

Detective Mauro said it is the department’s policy to keep all kits for now. 

RAPEKIT-2

Rape kits from the Toledo Police were transported by BCI to be included in the 14,000 files throughout the state.

THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
Enlarge | Buy This Image

State law now requires kits where a crime is committed to be submitted to a forensic laboratory within 30 days.

After learning about the accumulation of untested rape kits in 2011, the attorney general formed an advisory group, which recommended any kit associated with a crime should be tested. Mr. DeWine asked police departments to voluntarily send kits to be tested by forensic scientists with BCI.

“I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you there was no statewide protocol at the time,” he said, adding every case is different and each agency’s policies vary.

Funding for the initiative was provided through the Manhattan District Attorney’s initiative.

Victims of sexual assault endure an intrusive examination to gather evidence, and it’s wrong for investigators to tell them it may help lead to a suspect but then not follow through, Mr. DeWine said.

“I felt we owed it to the victims. Victims were told if they cooperated and allowed their clothing and evidence to be gathered from themselves — their body — that evidence would be tested,” Mr. DeWine said.

The Blade sought comment and policy standards of sexual assault kits from the Columbus Police Department, which submitted 482 kits, and the Cincinnati Police Department, which sent 338 kits, according to the attorney general’s office. Messages were not returned from either department.

Contact Allison Dunn at adunn@theblade.com, 419-724-6506 or on Twitter @AllisonDBlade.

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