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Spokane police complete review of nearly all backlogged sexual assault kits

Through the review process, investigators have identified nearly 300 DNA matches, four criminal defendants and one homicide suspect.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Police Department (SPD) has finished reviewing nearly all backlogged cold case sexual assault test kits.

SPD said investigators have successfully reviewed more than 1,400 sexual assault kits dating back to 1984. Through the review process, investigators have identified nearly 300 DNA matches, four criminal defendants and one homicide suspect. Investigators also filed six different criminal charges and made 65 referrals to a local victims advocate program in Spokane.

SPD started reviewing cold case sexual assaults in 2021 after the state of Washington called on law enforcement to prioritize submitting backlogged test kits.. The goal of the additional testing, which was dubbed the SAK3 Project, was to address the high number of unsubmitted SAKs in the state and to provide some kind of resolution to sexual assault victims.

The cases SPD focused on were filed on or prior to July 24, 2015, some of which dated back to 1984. All cases were kept as evidence and were eventually sent to the Washington State Patrol (WSP), who partnered with a private lab for testing.

Backlog testing ramped up after the department accepted a grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC). The money was used to pay overtime to the team dedicated to reviewing and submitting the sexual assault kits (SAK) for testing in their free time. SPD said assigning two officers to the review process allowed them to "move ahead and work on the backlogged cases with a dedicated intentionality," which included determining which cased would result in a meaningful conclusion and which ones needed to be closed.

The assigned detectives contacted victims to inform them that their cases were being reviewed. SPD said some of the victims didn't want to pursue criminal charges against their attackers and some provided information based on what they could remember. 

WASPC grant funding ended on June 30 of this year, at which point SPD had completely resolved 1,250 of the 1,404 backlogged sexual assault cases. SPD said the 154 cases that haven't been resolved are all mostly waiting on lab reports to come back and only 23 haven't been tested yet.

As of June 28, 297 DNA matches have been identified through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). This means DNA evidence from the backlogged SAKs matched DNA on file of known offenders. Some of the CODIS hits showed up as a previous consensual partner of the victim and, in some cases, the identity of the offender was already known.

According to SPD, a CODIS hit doesn't indicate that all elements of a rape are met, but it is evidence that a person's identity can be confirmed and that at some point, that person and a sexual assault victim committed a specific act.

Through the SAK reviews, 65 referrals were made to Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW), a victims advocacy group that partners with SPD. Additionally, four criminal defendants were identified, six criminal charges were filed-including rape, assault and kidnapping- and one homicide suspect out of California was identified through a DNA profile. 

A DNA match recently helped SPD identify and find the suspect in a 2004 rape case. The man is currently in prison for a previous rape but allegedly committed another one before he was in prison. That DNA match provided evidence to resume the investigation and charge the man with first-degree rape and second-degree assault.

SPD said it is their mission to "seek a just resolution for survivors of sexual assault."

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