Following a damning report that showed severe mishandling of hundreds of sexual assault cases by five New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) detectives, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison last week announced a "task force" to reinvestigate "each case that was touched" by the detectives. A report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) revealed that five detectives (all of whom were placed on administrative reassignment Nov. 13) failed to follow up on 86 percent of nearly 1,300 potential sexual assault cases from January 2011 to December 2013.
"The accusations against these five detectives are a disgrace, and it is unacceptable that special victims were failed by the system," Landrieu said in a statement. "The mission of this special task force is to bring justice to these victims."
NOPD Second District Commander Paul Noel will head the task force. He and four other officers will reopen the cases and review and gather new evidence. One task force officer is a member of the Public Integrity Bureau.
In 2010, Noel led the NOPD overhaul of its infamous backlog of more than 800 untested rape kits, which the U.S. Department of Justice found dated as far back as the 1980s and 1990s. Those rape kits contain fragile DNA and are collected through a painstaking, and often emotionally painful, series of hospital tests. When entered into a federal database (the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS), the results may link DNA from other crimes and can help identify offenders.
Once processed, the rape kits eventually led to more than 100 DNA matches, with 24 arrests and six convictions.
Statewide efforts to clear backlogs may soon prove fruitful. Earlier this year, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law state Sen. J.P. Morrell's bill forcing statewide evidence rooms to inventory their backlogs, if any, and report hard numbers to Louisiana State Police. — ALEX WOODWARD