Wharton: Could take 5 years to process 12K rape kits - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Wharton: Could take 5 years to process 12K rape kits

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Former U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman-Davis said she hopes to uncover the cause of why thousands of rape kits in the possession of the Memphis Police Department went unprocessed for decades.

That's one of the pledges that surfaced during a Memphis City Hall news conference where Mayor A C Wharton revealed it could take five years to process more than 12,000 rape kits discovered in September 2013.

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It's always satisfying to know the truth, but for right now getting to the bottom of just who may have governmentally dropped the ball with unprocessed rape kits will take a backseat to an all out effort to clear the problem that has tainted the city's image across the country.

"As Dr. King said, 'Justice delayed is justice denied,'" Mayor Wharton said.

While the intent of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words applied to the crusade for racial equality, the umbrella of injustices would certainly cover Memphis' shameful backlog of more than 12,000 untested sexual assault kits revealed to exist last September.

As gravely reiterated at the news conference on Wednesday the task to process every one of the kits will be Herculean in time and money.

"The backlog began decades ago and it will take at least five years to eliminate it," Mayor Wharton said.

"While Memphis currently has the largest known backlog in this country, the fact is that what Memphis also has is an unprecedented commitment to addressing this issue," said Sarah Tofte, Joyful Heart Foundation Vice-President.

In the most comprehensive analysis of the Memphis rape kits controversy to date, Mayor Wharton announced the creation of a task force, aided by the advisory direction of the national organization Joyful Heart Foundation and the hiring of Coleman-Davis to review current policies and procedures for dealing with kits collected in the future.

So far more than 2,200 rape kits have been sent to labs using $1 million in funds from Memphis Police and the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice. Mayor Wharton estimated $5.5 million will be needed to complete the entire forensic analysis of the kits.

The effort to rein in those finances apparently will include another financial injection from the city council.

"The council must work with this," said Councilman Myron Lowery. "I don't know of any member of the council who will say no the request of $1 million next week."

"We can't divide on this one," Mayor Wharton added. "This is not South Memphis, East Memphis, Midtown. This is us. We're going to find the money."

What seemed to emerge for the first time, dealt with the investigative role Coleman-Davis will assume in getting to the heart of, what, or who caused the backlog dating back to the 1980s. When pressed, it appeared to illicit somewhat of a veiled threat from Wharton.

"If it turns out that this systemic failure was caused by the culpable actions of individuals, they will be dealt with," the mayor said.

But, while that sounded intriguing, all present stressed the number one priority in processing the kits was victim-centered.

"I believe, and from the reforms that will come out of it, Memphis will become a model city for how to address rape kit reform," Tofte said.

The Joyful Heart Foundation has proven to be a successful advisory group to the city of Detroit in clearing their rape kit backlog.

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