Brad Schimel’s Dreadful Record on Rape Kits
Attorney General is anything but tough on crime by serial rapists.
Even before Brad Schimel was elected Attorney General, cities in America were taking steps to process untested rape kits, in order to look for possible culprits. As an August 2014 story in the New York Times reported, “Several cities — including, most recently, Memphis — have won praise for aggressive new efforts not only to submit all new rape kits for testing but also to test those in storage. In just the last year, initial testing of old kits in Detroit and Cleveland has yielded hundreds of indictments and revealed scores of repeat offenders.”
Just a few months later, the Joyful Heart Foundation in New York said Milwaukee reported 2,655 untested rape kits and that data from then Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen “found an additional 3,351 untested rape kits from with 81% of jurisdictions reporting,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. “That’s a total of 6,006 untested rape kits in Wisconsin.”
By September of that year, Schimel announced his office had won a $4 million grant from two different sources, the District Attorney of New York and the U.S. Department of Justice, to inventory and process any untested rape kits. “This money will go a long way to bring justice to survivors of sexual assault,” Schimel declared in his press release. “We owe it to those who had the courage to report a sexual assault and underwent a sexual assault forensic exam, to now test their kits, investigate their cases, and hold their perpetrators accountable.”
But a year later a Post Crescent story revealed that not one kit had been tested with the grant money. Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, who had applauded the $4 million grant when it was awarded, said she was “troubled” by the lack of progress and wrote a letter to Schimel calling for a “renewed sense of urgency” in the effort to catalog and test sexual assault evidence held by law enforcement agencies across the state, another Post Crescent story reported.
By then the federal government announced it would award Wisconsin another $1.1 million to process the backlogged rape kits. So Schimel now had more than $5 million to address the problem. Yet four months later his office had still done almost nothing. When asked about it by the press in late January, the AG said his office has tested “hundreds” of untested kits, but two days later his spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg admitted the true number was nine — just nine untested rape kits had so far been processed, as the Green Bay Press Gazette reported.
But Ballweg said the AG office would now be using the grant money to send 200 rape kits per month to a private lab for testing “until all kits are tested.”
But by mid-May of 2017, more than three months later, his office admitted to the press that just 63 of the more than 6,000 rape kits had so far been tested. When asked about this Schimel said “I don’t know where they got that number from” and “struggled to describe the state’s progress,” as a Post Crescent story quoted him.
Schimel had more than $5 million to process evidence that might nab some of the state’s nastiest offenders. Studies had by then showed that serial sexual offenders were more common than previously thought. A 2016 report by Case Western Reserve University found that of 243 rape kits studied in 2013, at least 51 percent were linked to offenders of multiple sex crimes. Yet Schimel seemed to be doing nothing to process the rape kits. Why?
His various explanations, if anything, raise even more questions about his mystifying failure to do his job. At a March 2017 legislative budget hearing, Schimel told lawmakers “We wanted the grant process to move faster. It couldn’t move faster,” the Post Crescent story noted. Yet he added: “I’m proud of our progress.” This was at a point where less than one percent of all the backlogged rape kits had been tested.
Moreover his office offered a different view “behind the scenes,” the story noted. “In an application for federal aid two years ago, they described “disturbing” resistance to the testing of rape kits from police throughout Wisconsin.
Schimel is the state’s highest law enforcement officer. If police departments were dragging their feet on the testing of rape kits, why didn’t he use the bully pulpit to urge them to take action?
Perhaps because his own office was just as laggard as some of these police departments. The Green Bay police, for instance, reported in 2014 that they had 322 untested rape kits, yet not one of them reached crime labs until police actually drove them to Madison in June 2017, the Post Crescent reported. “It was just a lot of waiting on what the state wanted to do,” Green Bay Lt. Jeff Brester told the paper. “Our issue was it took so long before the state allowed us to send them in.”
Schimel might also have been looking to save money, the Post Crescent story suggests, because rape kits can cost about $1,000 each to test. But even at that price, the $5.1 million in grant money could have paid for testing 5,100 rape kits.
And by delaying, Schimel is actually costing taxpayers more. To handle the embarrassing failure to process the rape kits Schimel “has authorized more overtime and hired 11 part-time workers in an effort to speed up testing,” a Post Crescent story revealed, and may ask the legislature “for money to pay more workers next year.”
Meanwhile the backlog of untested kits continued to grow and reached 6,800 at its peak. Yet even with the extra overtime spending, Schimel’s office has by now tested only 1,900 rape kits, though they had enough federal money to process 5,100 kits.
Few people in Wisconsin are even aware of Schimel’s abysmal failure to handle this hugely important issue. Post Crescent reporter Keegan Kyle has done wonderful work tracking this issue for years, but the state’s largest newspaper, the Journal Sentinel, paid little attention. Now that the Journal Sentinel has joined the USA Today network that the Post Crescent is part of, the JS republished the long investigative piece by Kyle that originally ran a week ago. But it ran on page three of the Sunday paper, with most of the damning information on the jump page, page 21, far in the back. Nor did it help that the article was poorly organized and failed to tell the story chronologically, in a way that readers would more easily understand.
Indeed, Schimel feels so untouched on the issue that he went on talk radio with Green Bay radio host John Muir, a self-styled champion of “common sense conservatism,” to blast his critics, as Kyle reported: “If our crime lab stumbled on the cure for cancer, someone would criticize that — ‘Well why, didn’t you do that quicker?’,” Schimel declared. “With some people that want to play politics with important things like this, you’re just never going to win.”
It’s one thing to fail. But to fail repeatedly, over a period of nearly three years and then to top it off with an arrogant dismissal of any criticism? That’s a level of blindered incompetence that few state officials have ever achieved.
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