Evidence in 31 Miami Rapes Untested For Months
By David Kidwell, The Miami Herald
Miami police sent only nine of 40 rape kits to the county crime lab this year for critical DNA analysis -- a lapse top commanders are scrambling to correct.
Rape investigators began this week sending dozens of the untested rape kits from their property room to the Miami-Dade police lab.
The department recently has been criticized for shelving DNA samples that could have confirmed months earlier that a serial rapist was stalking several southwest Miami neighborhoods.
Police Chief John Timoney declined to comment. Deputy Chief Frank Fernandez said an internal investigation is under way into possible mistakes by the sexual battery detectives.
"When we have the results of that review, we'll be glad to advise you," he said. "Until then, it's not appropriate. We have admitted mistakes."
Timoney has ordered all rape evidence of potential "evidentiary value" sent to the crime lab, Fernandez said.
But since Christmas Eve, Miami investigators did not send 31 rape kits -- fluids and physical evidence recovered from the victim -- to the crime lab, according to records obtained by The Herald. That number includes more than a half-dozen additional cases from the same area where a serial rapist has attacked three school girls and four women.
It could not be determined Thursday how many of the 31 untested kits involved cases in which the attacker was unknown.
A Miami officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said many rape allegations often result from tumultuous relationships and domestic violence cases.
"There are a lot of reasons why a rape investigator might not send a rape kit to the lab," the source said.
"Sometimes the victim changes her story. Sometimes the suspect is so obvious you don't need a DNA confirmation. Sometimes these things happen under circumstances that you know are not going to lead to a prosecution."
Miami police have come under scrutiny for their failure to submit DNA evidence from a Sept. 17, 2002, rape of a 21-year-old woman -- the first of the seven attacks now connected to the same man.
Had police submitted the evidence soon after the rape, the crime lab would have linked it to a Dec. 3, 2002, attack in the same area when that evidence was analyzed, according to county crime lab supervisors.
But police failed to submit DNA evidence from the September rape and a May 15 attack until June 5, delaying warnings to the community.
City Commissioner Tomas Regalado, who represents the neighborhoods where some attacks occurred, said he was surprised by the number of untested rape kits in property-room refrigerators.
"We were all led to believe this was just an isolated mistake, that they forgot to send it to the lab in two cases," Regalado said. "Now, if this is correct, we are learning that there is a serious, serious problem.
"I am shocked by this, and tomorrow so will the people of Shenandoah," Regalado said. "I consider this a serious threat to the community. . . . This is negligence."
Some Miami detectives have said rape kits were frequently shelved because the county lab had an unwritten policy against analyzing DNA evidence when no suspect has been identified -- an allegation denied by Miami-Dade police brass.
Willard "Bud" Stuver, the supervisor of the DNA program at the crime lab, said he has built up a DNA database specifically to match samples from unknown suspects against samples collected from all over the county.
"That's the whole reason there is a database," he said in an interview last week.
Of the total of 59 rape cases investigated by Miami in the last six months, detectives have collected 40 rape kits. Records show four were submitted in June, as the serial rape investigation intensified. Five others were sent in April or earlier.
Rape investigators also collected other evidence not part of a rape kit, such as panties, semen-stained clothing and condoms. Records show that DNA evidence was submitted only in 10 of the 19 cases where no rape kit was available.
On Feb. 26, detectives sent a rape kit and other DNA evidence from a recent attack to the county lab for processing.
The next day, detectives sent seven more bags of less significant evidence and a cellphone.
That was the only time in six months that county lab supervisors rejected a request from Miami to test rape evidence, records show.
City Manager Joe Arriola said Thursday neither he nor Timoney was aware that that many rape kits were untested.
"Every time we turn another corner, there's another surprise," Arriola said. 'You wonder, `My God, how can this happen?' But then you remember how really, really bad our police department was."
"That's why we fired [former chief Raul Martinez]. That is why we went out of our way to find the best of the best to replace him.
"Every day is an adventure there," Arriola said, "and we had no idea when we started how bad it was going to be."