A 22-year-old woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of
and its former police chief, alleging that authorities failed to submit a rape kit to state officials when she was sexually assaulted in 2007.
The suit, filed Wednesday, accuses the south suburb and former police chief Andrew Joshua of failing to properly investigate sexual assaults by systematically not submitting hundreds of rape kits to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab.
By not testing the rape kits, the lawsuit alleges, the victims of the sexual assaults were denied their constitutional due process rights and the opportunity to see their cases prosecuted.
“We’re trying to ensure that the community who was victimized by the Harvey Police Department has an opportunity to speak,” said attorney Yao Dinizulu. “A mistake is when it happens once or twice. This has to be some policy of not honoring the claims of women and further violating them in the process. In all likelihood, the failure to test or to collect and preserve that evidence was the rationale for why these cases fell apart.”
Harvey police came under fire in 2005 after it was revealed the department had failed to solve any of the city’s nine homicides that year. In January 2007, a joint task force of investigators from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, sheriff’s police and Illinois State Police raided the Harvey Police Department and seized evidence and records relating to dozens of unsolved violent crimes.
Authorities discovered about 200 rape kits during the raid, many of which had never been tested. Later that year, the state’s attorney’s office sent 50 of those kits to be evaluated, which has since led to the sexual assault charges of at least 14 defendants in 20 separate cases.
Wednesday’s suit states that the alleged victim, then 17, was walking home from school on May 24, 2007, when she encountered Jacquez Dunbar, an acquaintance, who then entered the victim’s home without permission and sexually assaulted her. The girl and her mother reported the assault to Harvey police the same day and the girl was taken to Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, where medical personnel took fluid samples for a rape kit.
That kit was never sent to the state crime lab for testing, according to the lawsuit.
In April, the state’s attorney’s office informed the alleged victim that results of the rape kit testing pointed to Dunbar, also 22. A spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office said authorities obtained the victim’s rape kit after the initial raid in January 2007.
Court records show that Dunbar, of the 100 block of West 154th Street in Harvey, was charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault in September of last year in connection to the May 2007 attack. He has pleaded not guilty.
Dinizulu said that the situation has been particularly traumatic for the alleged victim.
“She has flashbacks, not just of the actual assault but of how the police department refused to follow up on her case,” Dinizulu said.
The Chicago-based law firm representing the alleged victim also filed a similar lawsuit against the city in February, relating to a 1997 sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl.
In that suit, a 25-year-old woman alleges that she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her stepfather, starting in January of 1997, and that her rape kit from August 1997 was never submitted for testing. The state’s attorney’s office learned in September 2011 that tests revealed a DNA match to the woman’s step-father, Robert Buchanan, a Cook County correctional officer.
Buchanan, 45, was charged in September with predatory criminal sexual assault in relation to the alleged assault in 1997. He has pleaded not guilty.
Harvey city spokeswoman Sandra Alvarado referred all questions to attorney Cliff Kosoff, who stated that the most recent lawsuit had no legal merit.
“(The lawsuit) contains numerous factual inaccuracies,” Kosoff said, declining to specify which allegations he questioned. “We’ll file a response at the appropriate time.”