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Baltimore County awarded $300,000 to investigate sexual assault cold cases

Maryland Del. Shelly Hettleman, left, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewksi, Jr. and Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt announce the county's $300,000 grant award from the Hackerman Foundation in Towson Monday morning.
Maryland Del. Shelly Hettleman, left, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewksi, Jr. and Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt announce the county's $300,000 grant award from the Hackerman Foundation in Towson Monday morning. (Taylor DeVille / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore County Police Department will receive a $300,000 grant to support cold case sexual assault investigations, officials announced Monday.

The funding, awarded by the Baltimore-based Hackerman Foundation, will support staffing, training and rape kit testing to establish a cold case investigations component in the police department’s special victim unit, Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said during a news conference.

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County Executive Johnny Olszewki Jr. said the funding is aimed to “secure justice and closure for victims who have waited for years or perhaps even longer" for their sexual assault cases to resolve.

The grant announcement comes comes after an audit of Baltimore County’s Sexual Assault Investigations Task Force, established by Olszewski in February, found the county police department rarely completed testing of rape kits in most cases.

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The audit also found the department lacked written policy for sexual assault investigations, and suggested that police and prosecutors still consider evidence of the victim’s resistance when pursuing sexual assaults cases and prosecutions, even though a recent state law stated such resistance is not necessary to prove a crime was committed.

Baltimore County Police Lt. Brian Edwards, commander of the county’s special victims unit, could not say Monday how many more rape kits would be tested with the additional funding.

Rape kit testing is determined “on a case-by-case basis,” Edwards said. “We’re looking at rapidly expanding that number,” which, he added, requires more staffing.

Some of the additional funding will be allocated to test microscope slides containing forensic evidence of sexual assailants, collected from victims by the Greater Baltimore Medical Center since the 1970s, Olszewski said. Of the grant, $190,000 will be put toward forensic testing of the slides preserved by GBMC and for testing Sexual Assault Forensic Examination kits, or SAFE kits, that were collected prior to April 2018, according to a release.

Slide testing has led to sexual assault convictions for decades-old cases through DNA analysis, the county said in a release.

Another $70,000 will be allocated for police staffing and training in cold cases; $16,000 will support investigations and travel expenses; and $13,000 will pay for more technologically-advanced forensic testing equipment, according to a county spokesman.

"Our victims deserve a complete and thorough investigation in every case,” Hyatt said. “This funding will support this initiative.”

But Laura Neuman, a former Anne Arundel county executive who attended Monday’s press conference, questioned why public funds weren’t used to test the kits sooner.

Neuman was sexually assaulted in Baltimore in 1983 and the case took 19 years to prosecute. As a matter of policy, The Baltimore Sun does not identify victims of sexual assault unless they discuss it publicly or give consent.

“This money is coming from a private [group],” Neuman said. "Where are the public resources to test all kits?'

“Ten years ago, we knew there were 2,000 slides [at GBMC]," she said. "Why are they not being tested — all of them?”

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