JAMESTOWN – A recent CNN investigative report recently named the Jamestown Police Department as one of several police agencies nationwide that destroyed rape kits prematurely.
According to the report from investigative journalists Sergio Hernandez and Ashley Fantz, JPD destroyed at least two kits tied to cases police described as first-degree rapes, which carried no statutes of limitations.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office called the rape kit destruction “disturbing” and directed State Police to contact JPD to make sure the agency is “complying with state law regarding the handling of rape kits.”
US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, in a statement, called the destruction “deeply offensive to the survivors of these horrific crimes.”
“I am extremely disturbed that some police departments around the country have been brazenly destroying this crucial evidence, even before the statute of limitations has ended, something they almost certainly would not do for any other violent crime,” Gillibrand said.
Jamestown Police Chief Harry Snellings issued the following statement to CNN when reached for comment in October:
“At face value, (experts’ claims that sexual assault kits should be maintained for the time allowed by law to prosecute) is a fair criticism. However, in the cases CNN identified, there were several examples of why we would not retain the evidence kits. They include victims recanting their statements and investigations revealing that the acts were consensual or did not occur. If there is no crime committed, there is no need to retain the evidence.”
“There have been some changes and proposed legislation in the handling of sexual assault kits in New York State. As of February 26, 2017, a law enforcement agency must submit any sexual offense evidence kit that it receives or collects to an appropriate forensic laboratory within 10 days of receipt. Additionally, there has been proposed legislation requiring the retention of all kits for extended periods of time. As CNN’s investigation showed, we have been retaining all kits since 2013. We have been following this practice in anticipation of these changes.”
WNYNewsNow reached Snellings for further comment on the report. Snellings remained consistent with his statement to CNN.
“I am aware of the CNN story. The two cases referenced in the article are from 2011,” Snellings said. “It is the policy and practice of the Jamestown Police Department to permanently maintain all kits.”
WNYNewsNow also reached out to Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson for comment. Swanson said that, in general, policies have undergone changes over time, and that there could be many reasons as to why kits were destroyed in the past.
“Just in the last couple years, New York State has made a change in the law with how rape kits are handled,” Swanson said. “Before that, there were department policies that were followed. Most of those polices were written in good faith, and were probably adhered to. As to why a police agency would rid itself of a kit, there could have been a lot of factors. It could’ve been a prosecutorial decision not to prosecute, it could’ve been a number of things, including what their policy called for.”
“Police departments have policies. They follow them, and they’re frequently revised to make them better. I don’t think any policy has ever been perfect, and they’ll continue to change.”
Swanson said, with JPD specifically, that he’s confident the department is following state law regarding how it handles rape kits.
“I know JPD is following the law that New York State has put into place,” Swanson said. “If something like that was done, I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, it was based on some sound reason. As we know, times change, laws change, protocol changes.”