Hearings for MPD rape kit backlog lawsuit come to an end

Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 6:54 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The case of Janet Doe v. The City of Memphis continued with day 2 of preliminary hearings Friday.

This makes it eight years since the lawsuit was first filed against the city and ten years since the backlog of over 12,000 sexual assault kits (SAKs) were discovered in Memphis Police storage, reportedly untested.

The plaintiff attorneys for Janet Doe were looking for an expansion of damages and for Judge Gina Higgins to issue a summary judgment for the city’s liability in the case.

Gary Smith, one of the plaintiff attorneys, said the current cap for damages in Tennessee is set at $300,000, and his motion would be to expand that from one potential sum of $300,000 to potentially 12,164 separate caps, which is how many SAKs were found in MPD possession almost ten years ago.

The city argued that Smith’s motion is illogical because there is only one official plaintiff in this case, Janet Doe.

Currently, the class has not been certified in this potential class action suit.

Smith and the plaintiffs filed to certify class during day 1 of these preliminary hearings.

Because of the lack of class certification, Higgins said Smith’s motion is premature but didn’t yet rule in the city’s favor.

The motion was put on hold, pending the motion of class certification.

“If class is not certified, then we’re going to be adding many, many, many more individual plaintiffs,” Smith said. “This case will not end, either way.”

The second motion, also filed by the plaintiff, requested Higgins issue summary judgment, a judgment based on evidence and statements and not a trial, on the city’s liability in the case.

Smith said the city and MPD’s failure to test the thousands of SAKs was a breach of duty, citing 4 deviations from a standard of care based on expert testimony.

The city circled back to the fact that class still has not been certified in this case, that it’s premature for a judge to hold the city liable for plaintiffs that aren’t officially a part of the suit.

“We only have Janet Doe,” said attorney Robert Meyers with the city.

The third and final motion for the day, made by the city, was a request for the judge to strike the testimony of former MPD Lieutenant Cody Wilkerson, who was in a supervisory position in MPD’s sex crimes unit.

“He was the man in charge,” Smith said. “He was the one doing the job. He was the one uncovering the scandal, and he was the one trying to fix it, over great opposition from his superiors.”

The city’s argument is Wilkerson does not have personal knowledge of individual cases, particularly Janet Doe’s case, nor was he an employee of MPD and the city at the time he testified.

Smith countered that Wilkerson couldn’t know Janet Doe’s file because Janet Doe is a pseudonym.

What’s more, Wilkerson worked in several capacities in MPD’s SCU, observing the wrongful conduct that Smith accuses the city of committing.

“It’s inexplicable the way they have fought this case the way they have,” said Smith.

In total, 6 motions have been filed over the last two days.

For the victims who have sat in the back of the courtroom observing, like Lauriann Jennings and Debby Dalhoff, another day of motions and no action is heart-wrenching, they say.

“Every kit that does not get tested is being reckless,” Jennings said. “That gives a rapist another chance to put another kit that’s not being tested. You’re telling me that the city is not being reckless? Please!”

“There are severe failures that have happened,” Dalhoff followed. “To go through this (case) for eight years and this is where we’re at? We didn’t get a decision today. We don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s pure injustice. The city has given us pure injustice.”

Higgins said she needs roughly two weeks to make her decision on the 6 motions filed.

Then, we will see how this years-long case will proceed.

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