An investigation by The Plain Dealer reported this week that Cleveland police were improperly closing sexual assault investigations-leading to potentially dozens of cases where suspects were never identified and allowed continued freedom, potentially hurting others.
The Deputy Chief responded to allegations that his officers had sidestepped both local policy and federal standards by claiming their practices were “just the way we’ve done it for 30 years.” An expert and former sex crimes supervisor, however, reviewed those cases that had been prematurely closed and said she would’ve never signed off on closing the majority of them.
The officers used what’s called an “exceptional clearance” to close the cases. While department officials state this simply means the case hit a brick wall and often had uncooperative victims, others say not enough was done.
Department policy claims cases “exceptionally cleared” must fit some very specific criteria—criteria not met by 52 cases in the 2006-2006 year. In general, exceptional clearance means a suspect has been identified and either the suspect had since died or the victim decided not to cooperate in moving forward with pressing charges.
The majority of these cases, however, seem to have been closed when officers simply ran into speed bumps in contacting victims. In one case, an officer left his business card on the victim’s home and sent one certified letter before closing the case.
As if public safety isn’t a big enough reason to fully flesh out these cases before clearing them, cases which are closed by “exceptional clearance” are counted as solved cases in regards to crime data and statistics—something which they obviously are not.
Sexual assault victims are already reluctant to come forward, with only an estimated 20-40% reporting their attack. But having to relive the scene by telling and retelling their story can be similarly frightening. Perpetrators of such acts are often serial rapists and taking a victim’s fear or reluctance to close the case early nearly guarantees the unidentified suspect will go on to hurt others.
Because statistics support the notion that most people don’t come forward with accusations about sexual assaults, it’s pretty safe to say that the majority of sexual assault perpetrators walk free. But when they are apprehended and when charges are filed, local prosecutors take these cases very seriously.
In an effort to make the system more sympathetic towards victims that might already be apprehensive, it can seem like it is skewed towards giving the victim the benefit of the doubt rather than fairly pursuing justice.
When you are accused of a crime with a victim, you will no doubt feel this way whether it is a sexual assault or a domestic violence charge. It’s now more than ever that you need an advocate in your corner, fighting for the best results possible on your day in court. Contact our offices today for a consultation on your case.