Prosecutor on untested rape kits: 'This will never happen in St. Joseph County again'

478 sexual assault evidence kits from St. Joseph County were not tested. // WSBT 22 photo

"The short of it is, law enforcement messed up. Law enforcement did not send these when we should have,” said Ken Cotter, (D) St. Joseph County prosecutor.

That mistake lead to 478 sexual assault evidence kits from St. Joseph County not getting tested.

WSBT 22 first reported on this backlog in December.

The Indiana State Police released results of a statewide audit of the kits.

St. Joseph County had the highest number in Indiana of untested kits.

Cotter said most of those kits, 331 of them, had legitimate reasons for not being tested. But 83 kits did not have valid reasons.

Now Cotter and his team say they're working hard to make sure those kits are dealt with and this never happens again.

"Some of the reasons were that a detective believed or at least put in the report that he had sent it to the laboratory when in fact he had not,” said Cotter.

Cotter says those officers no longer work with the special victim's unit.

All 83 sexual assault evidence kits were sent to the state laboratory for testing.

Cotter says he has two priorities, the first is holding perpetrators accountable.

"The second thing, just as importantly, is to ensure that victims understand that we do take this seriously,” said Cotter.

"It's hard for people to understand how much this really undermines any rape victim,” said Linda Baechle, CEO, YWCA North Central Indiana

Baechle is the CEO of the North Central Indiana YWCA.

Her staff offers free counseling to sexual assault victims.

She said it can be hard to convince a victim to complete a sexual assault kit, if she thinks it's not going to be tested.

"It's not a pleasant process for a victim that's been traumatized,” said Baechle.

Cotter says he's doing all he can to prevent this from happening again.

He's adding new requirements for filing and more oversight.

"We are, every year, going to re-audit all of the cases involving sexual assault kits to ensure that they are sent to the laboratory for testing,” said Cotter.

"I appreciate that Ken's office has taken the steps that they have to look into what really happened here, to try to drill down and find out who's accountable and to try to ensure that it doesn't happen again and I think at this point that's all we can do,” said Baechle.

Cotter said he and his office do take sex crimes very seriously. He said about one-third of his office is dedicated to them.

Cotter said he knows this situation has eroded the public's trust, but he hopes the steps he has taken to fix the problem are steps toward regaining that trust.

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