Baltimore County police to review rape cases officers deemed unfounded

Baltimore County police plan to reexamine three years' of rape cases that investigators called "unfounded."

The Baltimore County Police Department announced Friday that it will review three years' worth of rape cases that investigators deemed unfounded.

"While each of these cases already has been investigated, we will take a fresh look to ensure that the investigation was handled properly and that justice was done," Police Chief Jim Johnson said in a blog post.

Buzzfeed News published an investigation Thursday that said Baltimore County police labeled 34 percent of rape cases unfounded — the national average is 7 percent — and did not thoroughly investigate them.

The Buzzfeed story focused heavily on a case of a woman who alleged she was raped in 2014 but whose case was not pursued. Baltimore County Police on Friday released a redacted report in which an officer wrote that the woman did not want the case prosecuted.

"The woman apparently told Buzzfeed that she later changed her mind and that she had contacted the officer who investigated her case with additional information," police said. Johnson has directed detectives and prosecutors to review the case, police said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he was "extremely concerned" the county police department has a history of labeling a high number of reported rapes as "unfounded."

"I am extremely concerned about these serious allegations, and I have directed Chief Johnson to provide me with a detailed investigation," Kamenetz said in a statement.

"As a former prosecutor, my expectation is that every allegation of sexual assault be given thorough professional review," said Kamenetz. He was an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore City from 1982 until 1987.

Baltimore County Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond said she's anxious to get a full report from the chief on the matter.

"As a woman, as a mother of two daughters and the grandmother of four granddaughters, it is very disturbing and very concerning," said Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger defended how county police handle rape reports. He said he reviewed three cases sent to him by Buzzfeed.

"When I reviewed those cases, they do not amount to a crime under Maryland law," Shellenberger said. "One of the big problems with comparing one county to a national average is nearly every state has a different definition of what rape is ... And Maryland is very specific. It requires force."

While most sexual assault charges in Maryland require an element of force, the most minor sex offense does not. It carries a year in prison and a lengthy term of sex offender registration.

Shellenberger said that when a case is labeled unfounded, "it doesn't mean the police didn't believe her."

Lisae Jordan, director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said she thinks police and prosecutors aren't properly applying the law.

Jordan said Baltimore County's high rate of unfounded rape reports is "absolutely outrageous."

"It really requires that law enforcement agencies, the prosecutors and the political leadership look at what they've been doing and admit it's not working and they need to improve," she said.

In 2010, The Baltimore Sun reported that Baltimore City labeled 32 percent of its reported rapes as unfounded the year before. Police said in the majority of those cases, the victim "admitted that the original allegation was untruthful."

In response to The Sun's reporting, the mayor ordered an audit and police implemented a policy prohibiting patrol officers from declining to take a rape report on the streets. The number of reported rapes increased and the number of unfounded rapes decreased.

The Buzzfeed report cited other police agencies with a high percentage of unfounded rapes: 54 percent in Oxnard, Calif.; 46 percent in Scottsdale, Ariz.; 37 percent in Pasadena, Texas; and 36 percent in Grand Prairie, Texas. In Maryland, Montgomery County's rate of unfounded rapes was 24 percent and Prince George's County's rate was 20 percent, according to Buzzfeed's analysis, which was based on five years of FBI data from agencies with at least 250 rape reports per year.

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