Capitol Alert

Ami Bera claims his Republican opponent let rapists go free. Is it true?

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, is running a television ad suggesting his Republican opponent for Congress, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, allowed rapists to go free.

The ad states that “68 percent of rape kits in Sacramento County go unprocessed” and that Jones failed to test DNA evidence and hand it to the FBI. Following is the text of the ad and an analysis:

Text

I’m Dr. Ami Bera, and I approve this message.

When 68 percent of rape kits in Sacramento County go unprocessed, justice is shelved.

Sheriff Scott Jones left DNA evidence needed to prosecute rapists untested.

Jones failed in getting evidence handed over to the FBI.

Rapists allowed to go free. Cold cases unsolved.

The Bee says, quote, “These crimes are too serious to leave evidence left on a shelf.”

Scott Jones can’t do his job now, and can’t do the job in Congress.

Analysis

The advertisement’s implication that rapists have been allowed to go free under Jones as “68 percent of rape kits in Sacramento County go unprocessed” is a big stretch.

Rape kits contain clothing, hair samples, DNA swabs and other evidence painstakingly collected from sexual assault victims in a hospital exam that can take hours. Bera’s statement that 68 percent of the rape kits in Sacramento County go unprocessed is based on a 2014 California state audit that examined how kits were handled from 2011 through 2013.

The audit notes that since January 2014 the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office crime lab has begun processing all rape kits within the sheriff’s jurisdiction as soon as they’re received at the lab. So it appears no rape kits in the area currently go unprocessed.

Bera’s ad includes graphics noting the statistics on unprocessed rape kits are from 2011 to 2013. So he’s not claiming they’re current. Jones was first elected as Sacramento County sheriff in 2010 and the advertisement is correct that the audit found 68 percent of Sacramento County rape kits from 2011 through 2013 had not been analyzed as of March 31, 2014.

So did that translate to rapists allowed to go free and cold cases unsolved?

The auditors reviewed a small slice of the cases in question and concluded investigators had “reasonable” explanations for not requesting a crime lab analysis. That could include cases in which the suspect confessed, cases in which the issue was about whether the sex was consensual rather than if it happened, or if the victim no longer wanted the investigation to continue.

“In our review, we did not identify any negative effects on the investigation of those cases that resulted from the decisions not to request analyses,” the audit found.

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, which runs the crime lab, said in its response to the audit that as of October 2014 every single one of the rape kits identified as unprocessed in the audit had been analyzed. The auditors could not verify if that’s true.

There’s some question about how rape kits were handled in Sacramento County. Jan Scully, a Jones supporter who was the county district attorney from 1995 through 2014, released a statement in response to Bera’s ad saying that for more than 20 years all rape kits went directly from the hospital to the crime lab.

“With extremely rare exceptions, there are no rape kits ‘sitting on the shelves’ and there have not been for more than two decades,” Scully said in the statement.

The audit, though, quotes an unnamed sergeant in the Sheriff’s Department’s sexual assault bureau saying his investigators had been responsible for the transport of rape kits to the crime lab prior to January 2013. The Sacramento sergeant is quoted in the audit giving an example of the kind of reasoning used to decide not to ask for testing of a kit.

“A sergeant in the Sacramento Sheriff’s Sexual Assault and Elder Abuse Bureau stated that investigators would most likely not request kit analysis in cases where the victim had not returned the investigator’s phone calls,” the audit said.

The Bera advertisement is correct in citing the California state audit’s finding that most Sacramento County rape kits from 2011 through 2013 had not been processed.

There’s lack of evidence, though, for the ad’s suggestion of “rapists allowed to go free” under Jones. The auditors said that, at least in the cases they looked at, lack of testing did not hurt the investigations.

Failing to test the kits and send the DNA results to the FBI could harm investigations into other cases. If the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office is to be believed, though, all of the kits had been tested by October 2014 and the DNA put in the nationwide database.

While it took longer than it should to complete the work, that doesn’t necessarily mean rapists went free.

And while the Bera ad’s graphic is clear that the statistics are from 2011 to 2013, the advertisement says kits “go unprocessed” and does not acknowledge that the crime lab now tests all kits upon receiving them. That could leave viewers with the impression that kits are currently going untested.

PoliGRAPH is The Bee’s political fact checker, rating campaign advertisements and candidate claims as True, Iffy or False.

Sean Cockerham: 202-383-6016, @seancockerham

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