Rape investigations in Minnesota: How we reported this story
Last updated July 22, 2018
In 2014, a University of Minnesota undergraduate named Abby Honold was raped at an off-campus apartment by a fellow student. Minneapolis police arrested the suspect, but released him a few days later. It would take a year before an investigator from another police department picked up Honold’s case and helped bring her rapist to justice.
In reporting that story, Star Tribune reporters heard from several law enforcement sources that sexual assault investigations in Minnesota deserved further scrutiny.
Over the past year, the Star Tribune has examined more than 1,000 rape and sexual assault case files from the 20 law enforcement agencies across Minnesota that reported the highest number of sexual assault reports to the FBI.
Using a public-records request, reporters obtained every rape report from 2015 and 2016 that Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments considered closed. For the other agencies, the Star Tribune examined a random sample from the same years.
A reporter or editor read each of the files, screening out any cases that involved children or incest, were deemed unfounded by police, or that remain under investigation. We logged key details from the cases, such as whether there was physical evidence; whether suspects or witnesses were interviewed, and whether charges were ever filed.
In assessing those case files, the reporters relied on best-practice investigative guidelines developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and an advocacy group called End Violence Against Women International. The reporters also attended a two-day law enforcement seminar about investigating sexual assault. We also asked 13 veteran investigators and prosecutors from across the United States to review and comment on more than 160 of the Minnesota cases.
In addition to the case files, reporters and editors examined hundreds of pages of court records and police documents and interviewed more than 100 assault survivors, sex crimes investigators, jurists, women’s advocates and academic researchers. Rape survivors were identified in these stories only if they specifically agreed to the use of their names for publication.
Panel of independent investigators
In reporting this series, the Star Tribune consulted 13 veteran sexual assault investigators across the country:
Justin Boardman: Former sex crimes investigator in Utah; now trains police on best practices for sex assault investigations.
Roger Canaff: Prosecuted sex crimes for a dozen years in Virginia and New York; now a law enforcement consultant and trainer in New York City.
Sgt. (Ret.) Mike Davis: Founding supervisor of the domestic violence unit for the Vancouver, Wash., Police Department.
Sgt. (Ret.) Elizabeth Donegan:Led Austin, Texas, Police Department’s sex crimes unit for a decade; now coordinates testing of the city’s backlog of rape kits.
Julie Germann: Former Olmsted County prosecutor and founder of Finding the Right, which trains police and prosecutors on sex crime investigation.
Catherine Johnson: Sexual assault specialist with the U.S. Marine Corps in North Carolina; national trainer on rape investigations.
Sgt. Richard Mankewich: Oversaw more than 14,000 investigations while supervising the Sex Crimes Squad for the Orange County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office.
Anne Munch: Former prosecutor in Colorado specializing in sexual assault and domestic violence; former consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Kevin Randolph: Former sex crimes investigator for the University of Minnesota Police Department.
Myra Strand: Sociologist specializing in sexual-violence prevention; co-founder of Strand Holistic Innovative Forensic Techniques, Arizona consulting firm.
Russell Strand: Retired criminal investigator with the U.S. Army; co-founder of Strand Holistic Innovative Forensic Techniques.
Tom Tremblay: Consultant; former public safety commissioner for the state of Vermont and chief of police in Burlington. consulting firm.
Lt. Elisa Umpierre: Handled hundreds of sexual assault cases as an investigator in Rochester, Minn.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police and leading victim advocate groups have developed a set of best practices for investigating sexual assault. They include:
- Collect all possible physical evidence, including clothing, bedding, cellphone records and DNA samples.
- Find witnesses who can describe the victim’s and suspect’s behavior before the incident.
- Interview “outcry witnesses” — friends and relatives in whom the victim or suspect might have confided soon after the incident.
- Interview the survivor using trauma-informed techniques, recognizing that a violent assault can affect a person’s memory. Use open-ended questions such as, “What was going through your mind when that happened?”
- Interview known suspects in person and run criminal background checks.
- Because rape survivors often have doubts about proceeding and may be hard to reach, make at least three attempts to contact them.
- Prepare detailed reports using the victim’s own words and documenting everything that officers saw, heard and did to investigate. Prosecutors say thorough reports can make or break a sexual assault case.
- When appropriate, ask the survivor to try a “pretext call,” a monitored phone call or message that allows the suspect to admit wrongdoing.
If you are a sexual assault survivor in need of assistance, there are many places across Minnesota you can turn for help.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (automatically connects caller to the nearest rape crisis center)
Committee Against Domestic Abuse crisis line (greater Mankato area and southern Minnesota): 1-800-477-0466
Minneapolis Police Department Sex Crimes Unit: (612) 673-3081
Minneapolis Sexual Violence Center: (612) 871-5111
St. Paul Police Department Family and Sexual Violence Unit: (651) 266-5676
Sexual Violence Services crisis line (Ramsey County): (651) 266-1000
Minnesota Day One Crisis Line: 1-866-223-1111 (24/7 help with emergency housing or shelter for victims)
Minnesota Crime Victim Services: (651) 282-6256
Contribute to this series
The Star Tribune is continuing to report on law enforcement’s handling of sexual assaults. If you are a survivor who wants to talk about your experience with police or prosecutors, we would like to hear from you. Our reporters will not share your information without your explicit permission. We also are interested in hearing readers’ questions and ideas about areas to pursue. You can reach Jennifer Bjorhus at 612-673-4683 or at email@example.com. Brandon Stahl is at 612-673-4626 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Both reporters can also be reached using the encrypted messaging app Signal at 612-467-9841.
Reporting: Brandon Stahl, Jennifer Bjorhus, MaryJo Webster
Photos and videos: Renée Jones Schneider, Jenni Pinkley, Deb Pastner
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