Despite missing rape kit audits, task force says it’s on track to present findings

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Danielle Tudor (left), a rape survivor and member of the task force, with Gov. Mary Fallin on the day it was announced the rape kit audit task force had become an executive order. Courtesy
Though nearly 120 law enforcement agencies have not complied with the governor’s order requiring them to count their untested rape kits, members of the task force leading the effort say they have more than enough information to move forward.

However, one member of the group said she is frustrated with how the order has been enforced.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed an executive order on April 24, 2017, creating a 17-member task force to determine the number of untested rape kits in more than 350 law enforcement agencies across the state.

The order directed agencies to submit their audits by Dec. 30 of that year, but Fallin extended that deadline to Feb. 15 because dozens of agencies missed it. At the time, Fallin said agencies that fail to comply risk losing federal funding administered by state agencies.

The cutoff was again moved to May 31.

Now, six months passed the original deadline, almost 120 law enforcement agencies have still not complied with the order. So far, the audit has counted almost 7,300 untested rape kits from 314 agencies across the state.

Bob Ravitz, task force member and Oklahoma County chief public defender, said the majority of  agencies that have yet to respond are small, one-person municipal departments. Many of those agencies claim to not have untested kits, although Ravitz said he acknowledged they should have responded.

There was confusion among smaller agencies surrounding what information they needed to provide. Additionally, some departments missed the deadline because they had thousands of untested kits to count, some which are decades old.

Ravitz said the task force has done “everything humanly possible” to get law enforcement to respond, including contacting agencies.

“I don’t know how anyone could say anyone on the task force isn’t doing everything they can,” Ravitz said.

[CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW AGENCIES RESPONDED]

The task force is supposed to present its findings and recommendations to the governor, president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House by July 1.

Ravitz said the task force is on track to meet the deadline. However, agencies that submit results after the May 31 deadline will not be included in the report.

Danielle Tudor, a rape survivor and member of the task force, has been critical of what she considers to be a lack of enforcement and support from the state’s attorney general’s office, which is collecting responses to the audit.

“He has refused to subpoena any information from any Law Enforcement Agency that has not responded by the deadlines given,” Tudor said in a June 1 news release. “He has not threatened to withhold any funding from any of the Law Enforcement Agencies that have refused to comply with Governor Fallin’s directive.”

But Attorney General Mike Hunter said in a statement his office does not have the authority to take those actions.

“The governor’s task force has no subpoena power, no investigative authority and no ability to withhold federal funds from law enforcement agencies,” Hunter said. “Further, the attorney general’s office does not and never has had the authority to enforce executive orders from the governor’s office.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. KASSIE McCLUNG/The Frontier

It is unclear what agency could have authority to enforce the audit.

Fallin, through a spokesman, said she is still considering the possibility of withholding funds from agencies that did not respond.

“That option is still being explored,” spokesman Michael McNutt said in an email. “In the meantime, the governor will continue to implore law enforcement agencies that haven’t responded to comply with the task force’s request.”

Tudor said no office or agency has claimed responsibility or authority over the task force. For several months after the executive order was issued, no meetings occurred and no one acted as chair.

Fallin’s executive order originally called for the Senate to manage the group.

“Administrative support for the task force, including personnel necessary to ensure the proper performance of its duties and responsibilities, shall be provided by the Senate,” the order stated.

But Senate spokesman Aaron Cooper said he was not aware of the responsibility laid out in the order until a Frontier reporter called.

“From our understanding, the attorney general’s office has been running this (the task force) on behalf of the governor’s office,” Cooper said.

Months after signing the order, Fallin designated Melissa Blanton, chief of the victims’ services unit at the attorney general’s office to serve as chair.

Hunter said in a statement although Blanton serves as chair, the agency’s duties end there.

“Although the victim’s services unit chief agreed to step up to chair the task force and act in an administrative function, my office has no other roles or responsibilities in enforcing the compliance of the law enforcement agencies,” Hunter said.

Fallin’s order did not mandate the testing of kits, but part of the task force’s duties is to find funding for testing, identify improvements on law enforcement training and analyzing rape kits.

The average cost to scientifically analyze a rape kit is $1,000 to $1,500. In recent years, several states have launched initiatives to address their untested rape kits. Testing kits can catch serial rapists, and advocates say it can help survivors feel as if their cases matter.

Task force members have discussed the possibility of applying for a state-wide grant to process untested kits. The group’s next meeting is Thursday.

Related reading: 

For survivors of sexual assault: Help us investigate how Oklahoma treats rape kits

A Frontier Investigation: Shadow Land

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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