Retired Minneapolis police Lt. Mike Sauro’s Aug. 14 counterpoint, “Rape series misrepresented investigative process,” about the Star Tribune’s series of special reports beginning with “Denied justice: When rape is reported and nothing happens” (July 22), requires a response.
The courage of rape victims in coming forward with their credible stories is meant to expose some problems in the system and facilitate positive changes in the process of investigating, and ultimately convicting, perpetrators. Although the reality was harsh, it was not done to vilify law enforcement. We believe, and hope all police departments believe, that keeping violent, dangerous predators off the streets, and making the city and surrounding areas safer for all, are priorities. Doing this demands the requisite mind-set to pursue investigations of rape seriously and vigorously, with effective implementation and enforcement of best-method techniques. We are actually on the same side.
Sauro describes himself as a 41-year police veteran. I am a 36-year legal assistant veteran who works with a prosecuting attorney and has a bachelor’s degree in criminology. I work with law enforcement officers frequently in the normal course of my work, and I have a great deal of respect for these officers and their staff. I understand law enforcement’s work-up of a case and its referral for prosecution, and the prosecution’s proceeding or declining to go forward. The decision to prosecute is acutely dependent on the quality of the investigation by law enforcement. Certainly, however, a case will never lead to prosecution if a substandard investigation is done.
Let’s look at the case Sauro picked out — the one with a woman violently raped by a stranger off campus of the University of Minnesota in March 2015. Both Sauro and I agree the initial response was excellent. The problems arose with the investigation that followed. Sauro states that he gave this case his highest priority and carte blanche for his investigator to use resources to solve this crime. Why, then, were surveillance videos not obtained from the merchants whose businesses were directly across the street from the victim’s apartment? A whole week passed before this was considered, and, by then, any video was overwritten. Potential evidence was lost forever.
Why, contrary to the assertion of the investigator, was the video of the likely perpetrator captured by the Target Express in Dinkytown not released to the public to generate leads? The video was grainy; however, the suspect’s gait was clearly visible, as was his clothing. His height and weight could have been easily estimated. Opportunity lost.
Why was a potential lead called in that day from a gas station in Savage about a suspicious person matching the perpetrator’s description not followed up upon? This is Criminal Investigation 101, and these investigative steps were, inexplicably, not done. Carte blanche use of resources? Meaningless.
How do I know these details? Because the victim Sauro tries to discredit is my daughter. His pent-up frustrations should be redirected today toward persuading the Minneapolis City Council or the Legislature to fund enough investigators to examine each rape case properly instead of attacking victims of a horrific crime who were courageous enough to break the silence and reveal this glaring problem.
We do agree that this unknown perpetrator is a serial offender and dangerous predator, but we do not agree on Sauro’s assumption that he is a “drifter,” meaning a transient, usually disorganized perpetrator who acts on impulse and is typically careless in leaving evidence, using whatever is available to assault a victim. In contrast, the unknown perpetrator here: (1) shows himself to be an organized offender who brought his weapon (pepper spray) with intent to rape and knew, likely from experience, to try to conceal his face with his hand and not reveal his voice, and (2) wore only a thin hoodie and jogging pants on a very cold, snowy night. Most transients dress for real winter, knowing they may be out in the cold for the night, but a local operating in his comfort zone would not have to endure the cold for long and would have no need of winter gear.
Theory? Yes, but a more plausible one than a “drifter” offender. Even Sgt. Brian Carlson, to whom the case was assigned, had portrayed to me and the victim that it was his strong belief that the rapist was local and that it was not his first rape. It is possible that with a gap in similar crimes, the perpetrator may be in prison until his release, when the crimes will begin anew and the severity will likely escalate. More theory, but based in factual history. No matter the theory, there is no denying how dangerous this individual is and how important it is to segregate him from society at large, whether he remains in Minnesota or not.
How dare you, Mr. Sauro, suggest that this victim “could not come to grips with the realization that the crime might never be solved”! First of all, you have never met or had any contact with the victim and have no basis for this flat-out unfounded claim. It certainly is not “transference” by the victim, which you condescendingly attribute to this extremely bright, educated and intelligent woman. I believe she became very disillusioned by placing trust in a certain officer, believing that this case was truly being given top priority and then realizing that basic investigative activities were not happening. More important, when she asked reasonable, logical and justified questions about perceived insufficiencies in the investigation, she was met with irritation and then silence, the same hostile, bitter attitude and lack of response that the state’s Crime Victim Justice Unit received when assisting the victim to understand her case.
Every citizen of this country should be appalled at a 3 to 10 percent conviction rate in cases involving rape. We plead with members of the Minneapolis Police Department and law enforcement around the state and country to swallow your pride and address any deficiencies in sexual-assault investigations, so that we as a society can improve the conviction rates for sexual assault. And please reassess the work the Star Tribune has done as a positive act. As said earlier, we are on the same side — or at least, should be.
Jeanette Morath, of Plainview, Minn., is a legal assistant.