Decision delayed in MPD rape kit backlog case

Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 6:16 PM CST

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Back in October, the case of Janet Doe v. City of Memphis was supposed to be done with hearings and was expected to face a judge’s ruling in the following weeks.

Those weeks turned to months, and here we are in early March with no answers yet as to whether or not the case will go to trial.

This is the latest case related to the backlog of thousands of rape kits that sat in MPD storage for years without being tested.

Though we’ve been assured by the city in the past that all of the kits have since been tested, victims who waited years for results to come of those kits now want justice and compensation from the city.

The holdup in this case, we’re told, was that new information came to light after what was supposed to be the final hearing in October.

Gary Smith, the attorney for Janet Doe, said his office found a former supervisor from TBI’s forensic division. Joe Minor, according to Smith, was with TBI in the 90s and 00s when DNA testing was becoming more efficient.

“He is the only person who knows, that’s before this court, what (TBI’s) testing capability was,” Smith said.

This case is not yet a class action lawsuit, though class certification is one of Smith’s motions before the court. Since there’s no class, the only person facing the City of Memphis is Janet Doe, who was raped in ‘97.

The main argument in Thursday’s hearing surrounded liability.

Was the Memphis Police Department liable, or required by law, to test Janet Doe’s rape kit after it was taken?

Attorney John Lakey, who represented the City of Memphis, said MPD had no way of testing non-suspect rape kits before 2002.

“Why were they even taking the kits if they weren’t going to utilize them?” Smith asked. 2002, according to Lakey and testimony from three different sources, is the first year MPD had access to the Combined DNA Testing System (CODIS) through TBI, which prevented them from being able to test Doe’s kit in a timely manner.

Smith and the testimony he received from Minor dispute that.

“(Minor) says they’re wrong. They could have done it during all of those years that they said they couldn’t do it,” said Smith. “Then, (the city) said that after 2002, when we could submit it, they didn’t because there was no standard that required them to investigate rape cases. I think all the victims would dispute that.”

The City of Memphis does not comment on pending litigation, and despite our efforts after court adjourned, Lakey wouldn’t comment either.

“I can’t make statements,” he said on his way out.

For the victims who were in court Thursday, some called it a “gut punch” to have no answers given, just another hearing with another court date later in time.

“I just feel like it’s a game, just to drag us along until somebody gives up,” said Demetra Jackson. “I think it’s just a matter of them wanting us to bow out, but I refuse to.”

Jackson flew in Wednesday night from Dallas, under the impression that Thursday would be the court date that would give her some long-awaited answers.

Unfortunately, no rulings were made or answers given, and Jackson, who took off work and paid to travel to Memphis, said she’s not capable of doing that again in the near future.

“It’s disheartening,” she said.

She was raped in 2002, and her kit wasn’t tested until 2015.

In 2021, she finally got justice, watching her rapist be sentenced to 25 years.

Now, she looks to get justice for the supposed neglect by the city, delaying that justice by nearly twenty years.

“I will not give up the fight,” Jackson said. “I’m going to advocate for others and encourage others to speak up.”

“One way or the other, the city is going to have to face these victims,” Smith said.

The next court date is set for March 22, and the hope is Judge Gina Higgins will make a ruling on if the city was liable to test the rape kit of Janet Doe and if the case will go to trial.

After that, we hope to find out whether or not Judge Higgins will certify class and make this a class action lawsuit.

If it becomes so, it is unknown what potential damages could be awarded to the victims, should they win their case against the city.

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