Today, BCoPD Chief Jim Johnson addressed several issues raised in a September 8, 2016 Buzzfeed article regarding unfounded rape cases.
While noting that the article contains numerous misrepresentations, Chief Johnson said it also raises valid concerns about the handling of reported rape cases in Baltimore County. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has asked Johnson to review how the agency handles unfounded rape cases.
"As a former prosecutor," Kamenetz said, "my expectation is that every allegation of sexual assault be given thorough professional review. I am extremely concerned about these serious allegations, and I have directed Chief Johnson to provide me with additional information about how the department has and will handle rape cases."
“We live in a time of growing awareness of the complexities of sexual assault,” Johnson said. “Nationwide, the focus is and should be on victims. This Department has a responsibility to treat victims with respect, investigate these cases and to pursue all cases that meet the legal standard for rape.”
Re-Examining Unfounded Cases
Chief Johnson has directed the Criminal Investigation Bureau to re-examine all unfounded rape cases that have occurred over the last three years.
“While each of these cases already has been investigated, we will take a fresh look to ensure that the investigation was handled properly and that justice was done,” Johnson said.
Contrary to the headline of the Buzzfeed article, every individual who reports a rape is interviewed by a Baltimore County police officer. The officer responding to the report conducts the interview and consults with an investigator assigned to the Special Victims Unit. Officers, detectives and multiple supervisors review the case and determine whether the specific incident meets the legal critera for rape in the state of Maryland. Officers also routinely consult with the Baltimore County State’s Attorney on rape cases.
October 2014 Case
The Buzzfeed article relies heavily on an October 12, 2014 case involving a woman who fell asleep in her car after becoming intoxicated and who reports she was raped by a man who invited her to drive to his home to recover. (A redacted copy of this report is provided.) The woman told police she talked with the suspect for an hour and accepted an invitation to watch a movie in his bedroom before he had unwanted sex with her. She told police she did not want to prosecute. SVU ruled the case unfounded.
The woman apparently told Buzzfeed that she later changed her mind and that she had contacted the officer who investigated her case with additional information. Johnson has asked detectives and the Office of the State’s Attorney to take another look at this case.
The Buzzfeed article falsely asserts that “in at least 15 cases … police wrote that the victims didn’t fight back hard enough." A review by BCoPD of each of the reports provided to Buzzfeed indicates that the Buzzfeed allegation is not accurate.
Chief Johnson noted that, as the article states, Baltimore County was the only jurisdiction (among many across the country contacted by Buzzfeed for this article) that provided records to Buzzfeed's reporters. "We have nothing to hide," Johnson said. "While we dispute many of Buzzfeed's assertions, we intend to use this article as an opportunity to see if our procedures can be refined and improved."