Rape victim sues city of Houston over rape kit backlog

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- A woman, whose rape kit went untested for five years, is accusing the city of Houston, current and former mayors and Houston police chiefs of violating not only her civil rights but the civil rights of thousands of others.

In a class action lawsuit filed in federal court, the woman alleges the Houston Police Department's years-long backlog of rape kits allowed serial rapists to continue committing crimes.

It cites David Lee Cooper as an example. He is serving a life sentence for a sexual assault of a child. The crime happened in 2002.

He wasn't sentenced until last year but his DNA had been in a national database for more than 20 years. In between the woman filing the lawsuit says Cooper raped her, too.

"Cooper is a serial rapist who could have been stopped," reads the lawsuit.

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A victim of David Lee Cooper says the city's inaction led to her attack by the serial rapist.

It says it took five years for her rape kit to be tested and there are 6,600 other victims just like her who could potentially join the class to sue.
"Resources weren't allocated to rape kits when they should have been allocated to rape kits. It's a public safety issue," said Eric Davis, the felony trial chief at the Harris County Public Defenders Office, who has been outspoken in the issue for years. "It's a public safety issue in the sense that, if you have DNA evidence left by a perpetrator that can help identify a perpetrator, if that person is allowed to remain free, then that person can commit more crimes and I think that was ignored."

In 2014, the Houston Forensic Science Center took over HPD's troubled forensic operation.

Statement from Peter Stout, CEO and President of the Houston Forensic Science Center:

The Houston Forensic Science Center is unable to comment directly to the lawsuit filed ...as the matter is pending litigation. However, HFSC is keenly aware of the importance of processing sexual assault evidence in a timely manner. Since taking over management of the Houston Police Department's forensic operations in 2014, HFSC has eliminated legacy and incoming backlogs of sexual assault evidence. A legacy backlog inherited from HPD that dated back to the 1980s has been eliminated. HFSC's goal is to have a sustainable, average 30-day turnaround time for all evidence, including that which is related to sexual assault.

Untested sexual assault evidence is a national issue. HFSC last week hosted a symposium in honor of National Forensic Science Week that focused on the importance of testing and tracking sexual assault evidence and all other evidentiary items in a timely manner. Speakers at the symposium included State Rep. Donna Howard, former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis and members of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the elimination of the national rape kit backlog.
HFSC will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure all forensic analysis is of the highest quality and completed in an efficient manner.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is expected to be a part of a news conference Tuesday afternoon and Eyewitness News will be there.

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