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Shocking report exposes how New Orleans police routinely ignored sex crimes

A report documents, in shocking detail, how five officers ignored damning evidence and failed to process rape kits


Katie McDonough
November 13, 2014 9:35PM (UTC)

A report released Wednesday by New Orleans' Office of Inspector General exposed, in horrifying detail, how five detectives on the city's police force routinely failed to investigate and document hundreds of sex crimes. According to the report, the detectives did not write supplemental investigative reports for 86 percent of the 1,290 sexual assault and child abuse cases that came to the department's special victims section.

The report, which investigated a period between 2011 and 2013, exposed a pattern of disregarding victims' testimony, failing to process rape kits and ignoring other evidence. In one of the cases documented in the report, a detective failed to submit a rape kit for testing, explaining in a log book that the kit didn't need to be submitted "because the sex was consensual." The same detective reportedly told multiple people that simple rape should not be a crime.

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In another case, a child under the age of 3, believed to be a victim of sexual assault, was brought to the emergency room and found to have a sexually transmitted disease. The detective assigned to that case did not investigate. The same detective closed yet another case of an alleged sexual assault of a juvenile, despite a forensic interview report noting "specific information regarding sexual and physical abuse by a named individual who was living in the same house with the juvenile." According to the report, this "named individual" was a registered sex offender. The detective cited a "lack of evidence" as the reason to close the case.

Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said the report "suggest an indifference toward our citizens that will not be tolerated," but the five detectives are still patrolling the streets.

More from the Times-Picayune:

NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said internal investigators are evaluating whether the detectives' apparent neglect of duty rises to the level of discipline or criminal charges. The department also is investigating whether two detectives intentionally "back-dated" six reports to appear as though they were written, in some cases, years ago, when they were actually put into the computer on the same day in 2013, after Quatrevaux's staff asked for them Harrison said. [...]

The five detectives -- Akron Davis, Merrill Merricks, Derrick Williams, Damita Williams and Vernon Haynes -- represented the majority of the Special Victims Section, which had between eight and nine detectives throughout the three-year period.

All are now patrolling the streets. Davis, who was the lone child-abuse detective, has been transferred to the 5th District in the St. Claude area. Merricks was moved to the 2nd District Uptown, and the remaining three were all moved to the 7th District in eastern New Orleans.

As the New York Times notes, this is not the first time the department has come under scrutiny. The United States Justice Department investigated the New Orleans police force in 2010 and 2011 and found that police routinely discouraged victims from moving forward with their cases and showed a pattern of reclassifying rapes as lesser crimes.

The extent of the investigation into the New Orleans detectives may be unique, but ignoring victims and failing to properly investigate sexual assault is not. A report into the Tallahassee Police Department found that officers routinely protected Florida State football players alleged to have committed crimes, including sexual assault. Another investigation into a California police force found that officers ignored or otherwise mishandled dozens of reports of sexual assault from patients at a facility for the developmentally disabled.

Which is part of the reason so few victims report their assaults to law enforcement -- the (well-founded) fear of being ignored, branded a liar or badly revictimized by police.

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Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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