Lawsuit Claims Rape Kit Backlog Allowed Additional Sexual Assaults To Happen

A woman is suing Houston officials on multiple constitutional grounds.

By Alexandra HartSeptember 27, 2017 5:40 pm|

Police departments nationwide continue to report backlogs of untested evidence, commonly known as rape kits, from sexual assault cases. Some of this untested evidence goes as far back as the 1980s. Rape kits are administered by police to gather biological samples for DNA evidence that could be crucial to capturing offenders. But due to the expense, police departments say, they can’t keep up.

Several lawsuits have been filed over the years by frustrated survivors of sexual assaults, because the lack of rape kit evidence often means perpetrators go free. Those cases have not resulted in a reduction the backlog.

That could change if a lawsuit filed by Dejeney Beckwith is successful. The 35-year-old Milam County resident  was living in Houston in 2011 when she was sexually assaulted by someone who claimed to be a mechanic. The rape kit taken after the attack sat in the police crime lab, untested, for five years, along with 6,000 other untested kits. In 2016, she heard from police that they had a suspect.  

Texas Standard asked Beckwith to share her story. She referred us to her attorney, Randall Kallinen.

Kallinen says the suspect’s name was in a national database of people whose DNA has been taken in connection with sex crimes, and that in 2002, the suspect raped a child. Had police tested a rape kit in that case, and matched the suspect’s DNA with the information in the database, Kallinen contends the man would have been convicted of the child’s rape, imprisoned, and thus would not have been able to assault Beckwith in 2011.

Beckwith’s lawsuit has been filed in federal court, and Kallinen says he is pursuing the case on constitutional grounds.

“Under the Fourth Amendment, it can constitute an unreasonable search and seizure if the police have knowledge of something, or they do something which causes a person to be unreasonably seized – in this case, sexually assaulted,” Kallinen says.

He also argues that women, including his client, are discriminated against because of their sex when interacting with police after a sexual assault.

“We have many other individuals who have come forward who suffered through the same scenario as Dejeney Beckwith. And they all claim that they were treated really poorly by the Houston Police Department when they were investigating these crimes.”

Kallinen says the suit seeks redress for the city’s past actions, with regard to rape kits. The defendants in the lawsuit include several past mayors and chiefs of police in Houston, and a leader of the city’s crime lab.

Texas Standard sought comment from the City of Houston’s Forensic Lab, which responded with a written statement. It appears on this page.

 

Written by Shelly Brisbin.