LMPD Announces Training, Procedure Changes In Wake Of KyCIR Investigation Wednesday, Feb 26 2020 

J. Tyler Franklin

Louisville Metro Police Lt. Shannon Lauder testifies during a Metro Council committee hearing called in response to a KyCIR investigation.

The Louisville Metro Police Department will add new training for patrol officers responding to victims of sexual assault and change some aspects of how they close rape cases, an LMPD official said Wednesday.

Lt. Shannon Lauder, who runs the special victims unit, testified about the changes at Metro Council’s public safety committee. Lauder was asked to testify in response to a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story that found LMPD cleared three times as many 2017 rape cases “by exception” than they did by arrest.

That investigation found that the most common reason a case was cleared by exception was because prosecutors declined to take the case. 

Councilwoman Jessica Green, the committee chair and a former prosecutor, said she called Lauder to testify because she was disappointed with the way police responded to a rape report from Jen Sainato in January 2018. KyCIR’s story focused on Sainato’s case, including the way six officers crowded into her hotel room after she reported a rape.  

“I said it to you and I will say it publicly, without hesitation, that my impression of that initial interaction: it was horrendous,” Green said to Lauder.

J. Tyler Franklin

Councilwoman Jessica Green questions Lt. Shannon Lauder during a committee hearing on Feb. 26.

LMPD Adds Training But Disputes Story’s Findings

Body camera footage from that night shows an officer ask Sainato repeatedly how much she had to drink, put his hands on her arms and, later, tell other officers that they “get these a lot in the hotels” — people drink too much, take someone back to their rooms and then say they got raped.

Green asked Lauder how the department will do better.

What I will say is that our words matter,” Lauder said. “We know when we are communicating with victims of sexual assault and victims of trauma, we have to remember that our words matter. And I think that in this instance, in particular, we can do better.”

Lauder said her sex crimes detectives have extensive training, but patrol officers often don’t. The LMPD is working with the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville on new, “groundbreaking” training focused on improving patrol officers’ response to sexual assault and trauma victims. That includes video training that will launch in April, and in-service training that will roll out in 2021, she said. 

Lauder said the changes are a positive that resulted from KyCIR’s story, but she called the reporting “disingenuous,” noting that the stories never mentioned that LMPD was closing cases with the “best of intentions” to be victim-centered. 

Lauder said she was excited to explain her department’s statistics further to the committee, because LMPD’s arrest rate on sex crimes is actually much higher than KyCIR reported.

“The statistics were manipulated and rattled off in a manner that gave a false perspective on what’s really going on in Louisville,” she said.

(Listen to Dig, our investigative podcast, at kydig.org or your favorite podcast app)

KyCIR examined records for 194 rape or sodomy cases reported in 2017 and found a 15% arrest rate. Those numbers were based on data obtained from LMPD through an open records request as well as LMPD case files and court records. 

Lauder told the committee LMPD actually had an arrest rate of 19% in 2017. She based that percentage on a much smaller number of sex crime cases that she said excluded crimes against children. 

While KyCIR’s review found four cases from 2017 ended with a rape conviction, Lauder said that they obtained 12 “felony convictions.” She did not say how many of those were for rape.  

‘Our community is better than this’

Lauder conceded that KyCIR accurately portrayed the percentage of rape cases that were cleared by exception after a prosecutor declined it, and that the city’s use of that type of clearance was higher than in other similarly-sized cities. But she said the story failed to acknowledge that “we were doing that with the best of intentions,” Lauder said. 

“It is hurtful to me, and it is hurtful to my detectives, to be accused of not caring about victims and not doing everything they can to see convictions,” Lauder said.

She said LMPD has since added a new category, “cleared by exception, victim requests case closure,” to more accurately reflect the impetus for the case clearance. Lauder did not address whether that would affect how often they close those cases without arrests.

According to Lauder, Louisville is actually exceeding the national standard for conviction rates in felony sex crimes, which she said was about 2 percent. 

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith said beating the national standard isn’t good enough. 

“We not only need to beat the national standard, we need to create an entire new standard,” she said. “Our community is better than this. LMPD can do better than this.”

After the hearing, Green, the committee chairwoman, said the changes announced by LMPD will help to start changing the mindset of officers and prosecutors. But she disagreed with Lauder’s statement that their approach was victim-centered.

“I don’t think that numbers lie. I think there was some attempt to kind of deflect what the numbers say or to blame the media for some of the messaging that’s gone out,” Green said. “But the numbers are real. I appreciate LMPD’s perspective but we don’t ever want to discount the voice of victims.”

J. Tyler Franklin

Jen Sainato, second from left in the front row, listen as Lt. Shannon Lauder testifies about LMPD’s handling of rape cases.

Jen Sainato was in the audience at the hearing. She and her niece drove from Valparaiso, Indiana to hear what Lauder had to say about her case. 

Lauder said she couldn’t say much, since Sainato’s case has been reopened. But she said a “miscommunication” in the way that case was closed has prompted a change in policy.

Police records show the case was cleared by exception because Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristi Gray declined it, but Gray told Sainato she never declined her case.

Lauder told the committee that Gray had said she would decline the case if “one more lab test” didn’t yield any new information. When the test came back negative, the detective cleared the case in “good faith upon this verbal agreement.” She said going forward, detectives will require prosecutors to put that in writing to avoid miscommunication.

Green said she invited a representative from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office to attend Wednesday’s hearing, but no one did. 

Sainato said Lauder’s changes don’t go far enough. 

I think there needs to be more focus on not explaining paperwork and statistics, but looking at victims and their cases, and truly wanting to arrest someone and solve it,” Sainato said. 

Sainato said she’s used to being disappointed by LMPD. But one good thing did come out of the hearing: she met other survivors, with similar stories, who came to watch the testimony too. 

I met a victim today and right away we hugged and just cried in each other’s arms,” she said. “We both have identical stories. And it is not a coincidence.”

Amina Elahi and Jacob Ryan contributed to this report. Eleanor Klibanoff can be reached at (502) 814.6544 or eklibanoff@kycir.org.

The post LMPD Announces Training, Procedure Changes In Wake Of KyCIR Investigation appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

LMPD To Testify About Rape Investigations In Wake Of KyCIR Report Friday, Feb 21 2020 

Listen to the brand-new episode of Dig in the player above.

A representative from the Louisville Metro Police Department will testify before city lawmakers Wednesday about the agency’s process for reviewing and closing rape investigations. 

The Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee has called Lt. Shannon Lauder to answer questions in the wake of KyCIR’s “Prosecution Declined” investigation, which found nearly half of all rape cases reported to LMPD are cleared by “exception,” rather than by arrest. 

In most of those cases, police said an arrest was not possible because the prosecutor declined the case before an arrest was made. KyCIR found that the police were often screening cases with the prosecutor before a thorough investigation had been conducted

Lauder runs the special victims unit, which includes sex crimes investigations. The testimony will come as Louisville’s sex crimes prosecutor is raising new questions about a case featured in KyCIR’s reporting. 

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, asked Lauder to testify in front of the eight-person committee. She also asked the Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney’s office to send a representative, but has not confirmed whether any prosecutors will attend. 

Councilwoman Jessica Green

Green, a former domestic violence prosecutor with the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, said police and prosecutors are sending the wrong message to victims.

“It’s essentially a message of … don’t report, because if you do, and start the process, you’re going to be disappointed,” Green said. “You’re going to be let down, and you’re never going to have your day in court.”

KyCIR’s investigation found that fewer people report rapes per capita in Louisville than in any of its peer cities. The city’s arrest rate in rape cases in 2017 was only 15 percent, far below the national average. And the cases that did end in an arrest were almost all pled down to a lesser charge. 

Of 194 reported rapes in 2017, four people were convicted of rape, KyCIR’s investigation found. 

The committee meeting is Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 601 W Jefferson Street. It is open to the public. 

In Cleared Case, Prosecutor Points Back at Police As Cause

J. Tyler Franklin

Jen Sainato

Jen Sainato plans to drive down from Valparaiso, Indiana, to attend that meeting.

“There needs to be some checks and balances,” she said. “And it seems like that’s what’s happening now.”

Sainato’s case was highlighted in the Prosecution Declined investigation and KyCIR’s podcast, Dig. In January 2018, she told LMPD officers she was raped by a man she’d met at a hotel bar. 

Six officers responded that night, crowding into her hotel room. One asked her repeatedly how much she’d had to drink and later told other officers that they “get these a lot in the hotels” — people drink too much, take someone back to their rooms and then say they got raped.

More than two years later, no arrests have been made. 

Portion of status form from Sainato’s case

Instead, LMPD cleared the case by exception last year, using the designation “prosecution declined.” According to the LMPD file, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristi Gray had reviewed the case and declined to prosecute the suspect, citing a lack of evidence.

During our reporting, LMPD reopened Sainato’s case after she provided additional medical records documenting injuries she says she sustained during the rape. Last Sainato heard, the police were reviewing the medical records and planned to bring the case back to the prosecutor for another review. 

But as Sainato continued to press for answers, the prosecutor made a startling allegation.

In a phone call with Sainato, a recording of which KyCIR has reviewed, Gray said she never declined to prosecute the case in the first place. 

Gray declined an interview request with KyCIR, but confirmed in an email exchange that she had reviewed the case on two occasions. Both times, she said, she told the police she needed more information to decide how to proceed. 

Gray told KyCIR the last time she reviewed the case was in November 2018, when she told Sgt. Tim Stokes and Detective Lindsey Lynch that she wanted to wait until the DNA tests were complete to screen the case. 

“There was additional information needed before we could decide whether we could proceed with any prosecution,” she wrote. “It was not a decision to decline prosecution.”

But in emails, documents and interviews, LMPD officials tell a different story. 

After the DNA tests came back in May 2019, Stokes emailed Sainato’s attorney. He wrote, “based on this DNA evidence and the investigation, the case was presented to the Commonwealth Attorney for review. The case was thoroughly screened and investigated. At this time, the Commonwealth has declined prosecution.”

He reiterated that in an October 2019 email to Sainato, who had reached out after KyCIR informed her that her case had been cleared by exception. He wrote that the investigation had been “very detailed, broad in scope, and extremely thorough.” He said the entire case file had been presented to the prosecutors after the investigation concluded and, “at this time, prosecution has been declined.”

In an email a few days later, Stokes was even more specific: “In this matter, all available information was presented to the prosecutor.  Victim interviews, scene information, lab reports, surveillance video, body camera video, medical records, witness interviews, and suspect interviews, et al have been included in the file.”

Sainato’s LMPD file also contains a case status form, signed by Lynch, that says Gray screened and declined the case. It is dated October 15, 2019, the same day LMPD responded to KyCIR’s request to review the case file. 

Signature and date on Sainato’s case form

Lynch hung up on a reporter who called her desk phone. An LMPD spokesperson refused to answer questions about when and whether the case was declined, instead directing all questions to Gray’s office.

“I am outraged,” said Sainato. “It just makes you wonder, did [Lynch] never believe me? Or does she just need to get a different job?”

Closed Cases A Concern For Some City Officials

This is just one of the developments that council members will be able to ask Lauder about next Wednesday. 

Several have expressed concerns about KyCIR’s findings. 

“I would be interested in knowing the reason for all of those…closed cases,” said Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith, a Democrat who represents the downtown district, including the Marriott where Sainato reported a rape. “It appears that victims in Louisville are tending not to receive the justice that is very much deserved.” 

Markus Winkler, the chair of the Democratic Caucus, said he would reserve judgment until he learned more from the police. But he was concerned by many of the numbers cited in the story. 

“I’m not naive enough to think that instances of sex crimes in Jefferson County are disporportionately lower than they would be in other areas,” said Winkler. “Just because it might be difficult to prove doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prosecute these cases.” 

Council President David James

Council president David James, a frequent critic of police chief Steve Conrad, agreed with his colleagues. But in this case, he said the blame goes higher than the police or the prosecutors. 

“I think that you all should put some pressure on the mayor,” said James, a former police officer. “He’s the one that hires the police chief. Does he think this is okay?”

Mayor Greg Fischer hired Conrad in 2012 and has stood by the embattled police chief through several no confidence votes and a child sex abuse scandal that put two officers in federal prison.

In a statement issued a few days after the story ran, Fischer said he was “confident LMPD places a priority on getting justice for [rape] victims” as exemplified by “daily officer interactions with victims.” He applauded the department’s pursuit of grant funding for domestic violence and human trafficking initiatives. 

Fischer’s office did not respond to follow-up questions.

Eleanor Klibanoff can be reached at (502) 814.6544 or eklibanoff@kycir.org.

LMPD To Testify About Rape Investigations In Wake Of KyCIR Report Friday, Feb 21 2020 

J. Tyler Franklin

Lt. Shannon Lauder speaks with KyCIR reporter Eleanor Klibanoff in November 2019.

Listen to the brand-new episode of Dig in the player above.

A representative from the Louisville Metro Police Department will testify before city lawmakers Wednesday about the agency’s process for reviewing and closing rape investigations. 

The Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee has called Lt. Shannon Lauder to answer questions in the wake of KyCIR’s “Prosecution Declined” investigation, which found nearly half of all rape cases reported to LMPD are cleared by “exception,” rather than by arrest. 

In most of those cases, police said an arrest was not possible because the prosecutor declined the case before an arrest was made. KyCIR found that the police were often screening cases with the prosecutor before a thorough investigation had been conducted

Lauder runs the special victims unit, which includes sex crimes investigations. The testimony will come as Louisville’s sex crimes prosecutor is raising new questions about a case featured in KyCIR’s reporting.

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, asked Lauder to testify in front of the eight-person committee. She also asked the Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney’s office to send a representative, but has not confirmed whether any prosecutors will attend. 

Councilwoman Jessica Green

Green, a former domestic violence prosecutor with the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, said police and prosecutors are sending the wrong message to victims.

“It’s essentially a message of … don’t report, because if you do, and start the process, you’re going to be disappointed,” Green said. “You’re going to be let down, and you’re never going to have your day in court.”

{Listen to Dig, KyCIR’s new investigative podcast}

KyCIR’s investigation found that fewer people report rapes per capita in Louisville than in any of its peer cities. The city’s arrest rate in rape cases in 2017 was only 15 percent, far below the national average. And the cases that did end in an arrest were almost all pled down to a lesser charge. 

Of 194 reported rapes in 2017, four people were convicted of rape, KyCIR’s investigation found. 

The committee meeting is Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 601 W Jefferson Street. It is open to the public. 

In Cleared Case, Prosecutor Points Back at Police As Cause

J. Tyler Franklin

Jen Sainato, photographed in Louisville in October.

Jen Sainato plans to drive down from Valparaiso, Indiana, to attend that meeting.

“There needs to be some checks and balances,” she said. “And it seems like that’s what’s happening now.”

Sainato’s case was highlighted in the Prosecution Declined investigation and KyCIR’s podcast, Dig. In January 2018, she told LMPD officers she was raped by a man she’d met at a hotel bar. 

Six officers responded that night, crowding into her hotel room. One asked her repeatedly how much she’d had to drink and later told other officers that they “get these a lot in the hotels” — people drink too much, take someone back to their rooms and then say they got raped.

More than two years later, no arrests have been made. 

Portion of status form from Sainato’s case (click to enlarge)

Instead, LMPD cleared the case by exception last year, using the designation “prosecution declined.” According to the LMPD file, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristi Gray had reviewed the case and declined to prosecute the suspect, citing a lack of evidence.

During our reporting, LMPD reopened Sainato’s case after she provided additional medical records documenting injuries she says she sustained during the rape. Last Sainato heard, the police were reviewing the medical records and planned to bring the case back to the prosecutor for another review. 

But as Sainato continued to press for answers, the prosecutor made a startling allegation.

In a phone call with Sainato, a recording of which KyCIR has reviewed, Gray said she never declined to prosecute the case in the first place. 

Gray declined an interview request with KyCIR, but confirmed in an email exchange that she had reviewed the case on two occasions. Both times, she said, she told the police she needed more information to decide how to proceed. 

Gray told KyCIR the last time she reviewed the case was in November 2018, when she told Sgt. Tim Stokes and Detective Lindsey Lynch that she wanted to wait until the DNA tests were complete to screen the case. 

“There was additional information needed before we could decide whether we could proceed with any prosecution,” she wrote. “It was not a decision to decline prosecution.”

But in emails, documents and interviews, LMPD officials tell a different story. 

After the DNA tests came back in May 2019, Stokes emailed Sainato’s attorney. He wrote, “based on this DNA evidence and the investigation, the case was presented to the Commonwealth Attorney for review. The case was thoroughly screened and investigated. At this time, the Commonwealth has declined prosecution.”

He reiterated that in an October 2019 email to Sainato, who had reached out after KyCIR informed her that her case had been cleared by exception. He wrote that the investigation had been “very detailed, broad in scope, and extremely thorough.” He said the entire case file had been presented to the prosecutors after the investigation concluded and, “at this time, prosecution has been declined.”

In an email a few days later, Stokes was even more specific: “In this matter, all available information was presented to the prosecutor.  Victim interviews, scene information, lab reports, surveillance video, body camera video, medical records, witness interviews, and suspect interviews, et al have been included in the file.”

Sainato’s LMPD file also contains a case status form, signed by Lynch, that says Gray screened and declined the case. It is dated October 15, 2019, the same day LMPD responded to KyCIR’s request to review the case file. 

Signature and date on Sainato’s case form

Lynch hung up on a reporter who called her desk phone. An LMPD spokesperson refused to answer questions about when and whether the case was declined, instead directing all questions to Gray’s office.

“I am outraged,” said Sainato. “It just makes you wonder, did [Lynch] never believe me? Or does she just need to get a different job?”

Closed Cases A Concern For Some City Officials

This is just one of the developments that council members will be able to ask Lauder about next Wednesday. 

Several have expressed concerns about KyCIR’s findings. 

“I would be interested in knowing the reason for all of those…closed cases,” said Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith, a Democrat who represents the downtown district, including the Marriott where Sainato reported a rape. “It appears that victims in Louisville are tending not to receive the justice that is very much deserved.” 

Markus Winkler, the chair of the Democratic Caucus, said he would reserve judgment until he learned more from the police. But he was concerned by many of the numbers cited in the story. 

“I’m not naive enough to think that instances of sex crimes in Jefferson County are disporportionately lower than they would be in other areas,” said Winkler. “Just because it might be difficult to prove doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prosecute these cases.” 

J. Tyler Franklin

Council President David James

Council president David James, a frequent critic of police chief Steve Conrad, agreed with his colleagues. But in this case, he said the blame goes higher than the police or the prosecutors. 

“I think that you all should put some pressure on the mayor,” said James, a former police officer. “He’s the one that hires the police chief. Does he think this is okay?”

Mayor Greg Fischer hired Conrad in 2012 and has stood by the embattled police chief through several no confidence votes and a child sex abuse scandal that put two officers in federal prison.

Laura Ellis / WFPL

Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad with Mayor Greg Fischer at a news conference in September 2016.

In a statement issued a few days after the story ran, Fischer said he was “confident LMPD places a priority on getting justice for [rape] victims” as exemplified by “daily officer interactions with victims.” He applauded the department’s pursuit of grant funding for domestic violence and human trafficking initiatives. 

Fischer’s office did not respond to follow-up questions.

Eleanor Klibanoff can be reached at (502) 814.6544 or eklibanoff@kycir.org.

The post LMPD To Testify About Rape Investigations In Wake Of KyCIR Report appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.