116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Iowa law enforcement officials, prosecutors and victims’ advocates have worked together to eliminate a backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits and streamline processing now to eight weeks — a “monumental” accomplishment that has aided in bringing criminals to justice and benefited the injured with the help of better training, officials said Tuesday.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and state Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens said they joined forces and resources in a six-year effort to address the problem of untested rape kits, which led to four criminal charges so far, improved processing of 1,606 kits and increased training and tracking using two federal grants totaling $3 million to better equip authorities in investigating sexual assault allegations.
“We applaud this six-year effort to improve how sexual assault kits are handled,” Miller told an online teleconference called to discuss the Iowa Sexual Assault Kit Initiative project, which was created in April 2015 to address the backlog of untested sexual assault kits. “Not only has the SAKI program been able to reduce the number of untested sexual assault kits, it has also created meaningful and lasting changes to the processes by which state and local practitioners respond to and investigate sexual assault cases.”
At the project’s outset, Miller said his office’s Crime Victim Assistance Division surveyed 387 active police departments and sheriffs’ offices and found 4,275 unsubmitted sexual assault kits.
Due to grant protocols that excluded many evidence kits from testing, a total of 1,606 kits collected before April 28, 2015, were submitted for DNA testing. That resulted in the development of 852 DNA profiles being entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS for short. Those submissions produced matches for more than 290 profiles with 26 of them belonging to people previously convicted of sex crimes, Miller said.
From there, officials referred cases identified by the project to local law enforcement and prosecutors for follow-up investigation and contact with victims. Miller noted that many of these sexual assault incidents took place 10 or more years ago and a large number of the victims chose not to reengage with law enforcement.
Bayens said ongoing improvements tied to the project have enabled “remarkable” progress in clearing the backlog of the number of kits submitted to the Division of Criminal Investigation’s laboratory for analysis. Law enforcement sexual assault kit submissions for lab processing has increased by 87 percent on average over the previous five years, he said.
“Now almost every law enforcement agency in the state are sending their kits to the lab, more kits are being processed, more profiles are being entered into CODIS, and we’re seeing a great number of investigative hits and leads,” the commissioner said, noting that the changes improved processing from 439 kits in 2018 and 433 in 2019 to 1,298 in 2020 and 734 so far this year.
“It’s incredibly encouraging to see the progress we’ve made,” added Bayens, who said implementation by a DCI efficiency effort with added lab positions approved by the Iowa Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds allowed officials to reduce lab processing time of DNA evidence on average from six to nine months down to eight weeks.
“This reduction in testing time is critical,” said Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, director of the Attorney General’s Office crime victim assistance division, who called progress to date “monumental” but only a first step. “If you tell a sexual assault victim that you cannot bring charges for almost a year, you’re going to lose that victim. Two months represents a dramatic improvement for victims.”
The division partnered with several state and local agencies, including law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices, the Iowa Air National Guard and others, to offer training and assistance in sexual assault response. In total, Miller said 2,355 individuals received training in trauma-informed sexual assault response and other project initiatives.
Government funding also supported the creation of a statewide forensic examiner protocol, which sets best practices of patient care and evidence collection in forensic sexual assault examinations. Last session, the Legislature also authorized Miller’s office to create and staff a unit to train and provide technical assistance to forensic examiners, maintain updated information on available examiners across the state and promote collaborative responses to sexual assault victims.
In October 2020, the Attorney General’s Office completed its rollout of the statewide Track-Kit reporting system that allows survivors and practitioners to track the status of evidence kits as they move from medical facilities to law enforcement and eventually to the DCI lab for analysis. Through their own protected access, victims can determine how they want to receive status notifications.
Last May, lawmakers enacted and Reynolds signed legislation requiring the use of the Track Kit reporting system for an estimated 1,780 users at medical facilities, law enforcement agencies, crime laboratories and county attorneys’ offices. The legislation also imposes requirements for the storage and disposal of kits, including requiring victim notification before disposal.
“Track Kit, along with these other changes, has increased accountability and transparency throughout the process,” said Miller, whose office invited crime victims to contact 1-800 770-1650 to track the status of a case.
Miller said the enhanced evidence processing enabled authorities so far to have filed criminal charges in four cases, with two convictions:
- A 2010 Dallas County incident in which a 14-year old girl reported that a 20-year old male had sex with her. When questioned, the suspect, Rahim Mohammad Dhoshdel, denied knowing the girl. The kit was never submitted for analysis. After testing under the initiative, the kit resulted in a DNA match with Dhoshdel, who was extradited from California and, in 2019, pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.
- A 2003 Pottawattamie incident in which two girls, ages 14 and 15, reported that a man they met in Omaha offered them a ride. The girls expected to go to another location in Omaha, but the man drove them to a cornfield in the Pacific Junction area, where he pulled a knife on them and sexually assaulted both girls. Sexual assault kits were collected, but never submitted for analysis. After testing through the initiative, law enforcement identified Myron Lee Brandon as the offender. On Oct. 6, 2021, Brandon, 43, of Pacific Junction, was found guilty in federal court of two counts of kidnapping and two counts of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. His sentencing is scheduled for March 2022.
- A 2009 Marion County incident in which — after testing through the initiative — a DNA profile matched Shane Farriester, who is charged with one count of second-degree sexual abuse in August 2020. He is awaiting trial.
- A 2010 Winnebago County incident in which — after testing through the initiative — a DNA profile matched Billy John Tucker, and he was charged with one count of second-degree sexual abuse in Nov. 2021.
Comments: (515) 243-7220; email@example.com