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Kadner: Incompetence and rape in Robbins

A 'before' picture evidence room Robbins Police Department.  |  Supplied photo

A "before" picture of the evidence room at the Robbins Police Department. | Supplied photo

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Updated: September 21, 2013 6:10AM



Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart wants a 22-year-old Robbins rape case brought to trial, although the statute of limitations expired in 1995.

The case involves a 14-year-old girl who was raped and nearly drowned in 1991, according to Cara Smith, the sheriff’s chief of policy.

“This case has been tormenting me since we came across it after discovering 200 rape kits sitting in an evidence room in Robbins,” Smith said.

“In this case, the victim did everything right. She reported the crime. Submitted to testing. Gave a description of the offender to a sketch artist.”

Robbins police submitted the rape kit to the state crime lab and DNA was identified.

“But as far as we can tell nothing more was ever done,” Smith said. “It looks like incompetence, but it could be something more. No one ever followed up, that’s what we know for sure.”

But Smith said sheriff’s police have identified the alleged rapist, who eventually was sentenced to 14 years in prison for armed robbery and is now a free man.

According to Smith, the two Robbins police officers assigned to the case were Jerome McGee and James Cooper, and they eventually were sent to prison for taking bribes from a drug dealer.

In a plea agreement, McGee admitted to acting as a lookout for the drug dealer and providing protection for him.

Smith said there doesn’t seem to be any connection between that case and the alleged rapist.

In another oddity, Smith said, Cooper lived 800 feet from the crime scene, “yet he told our officers that he didn’t remember anything about the case.”

Smith and other members of the sheriff’s department recently met with the staff of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, hoping to convince them to prosecute the case.

“I just believe justice demands that this offender be prosecuted,” Smith said. “This girl deserves justice. Her entire life was changed by this ordeal. The lives of her mother and grandmother were changed. We need to try to make this right.”

Daniel Kirk, chief of staff for Alvarez, said the state’s attorney feels as strongly about the injustice as the sheriff’s staff.

“This was a case where the victim did everything right. She believed the police department was doing their job.”

But after submitting the rape kit for testing, Robbins police did nothing more.

“Our appellate review staff is reviewing the case and trying to find out if there’s an argument we can make in response to a defense attorney’s argument that the statute of limitations has passed,” Kirk said. “We would like to prosecute if we can find that argument.”

Smith believes that “incompetence” throughout the Robbins Police Department played a major role in the lack of follow-up.

“I think that was true not only in this case but in most of the other 203 rape kits we found,” Smith said. “You had part-time police officers who simply weren’t professionally qualified to do their jobs.

“You had leadership that was incompetent.

“You hope that whether you live in Chicago, Oak Park or Robbins that if you are the victim of a crime it won’t matter. That law enforcement will bring the culprits to justice. But that’s really not the case. Financial resources play a major role here and Robbins simply doesn’t have the money to retain a professional police force,” Smith said.

Robbins officials have scheduled a news conference for Tuesday at the police station to respond to such allegations.

There’s a new mayor, and new police leadership, and village officials believe publicity from this case is creating a bad impression of their suburb.

But Robbins already has a bad reputation.

“People in our own office keep telling me its just Robbins,” Smith said, “as if it’s acceptable for something like this to happen there. It’s not acceptable for this to happen anywhere.

“After this man raped the girl, he told her he was going to have to kill her now and pushed her head down into a creek. He held here there and intended to kill her. She played dead and that was the only reason she’s alive today. It was a horrible, horrible, brutal crime. And this person, who could have been identified and locked up years ago, was allowed to remain on the streets and prey on other victims,” she said.

“How many of these other rape kits we found tell similar stories? I don’t know. But it haunts me.

“These are people who came to the police trusting they would do their job and it just didn’t happen,” Smith said.

Dart has been offering the services of his agency to any suburb that needs assistance combating gang crimes, narcotics trafficking or political corruption.

Surprisingly, there has been resistance from many poor suburbs that could use such help.

People simply don’t want to admit they are incapable of enforcing the law within the boundaries of their towns.

But low-paid, part-time and often poorly trained police officers are unable to provide adequate protection for their residents, Smith contends.

The rape victim, now 36, called Smith after reading a news story about the sheriff’s police finding the old rape kits in the Robbins evidence locker.

“She wanted to know if her case was in there and if we would follow up,” Smith said. “She never heard anything from the Robbins Police Department after all these years.

“It makes your heart break. She’s working two jobs. But this incident still haunts her.

“I admit, I’m obsessed by it. People have a right to expect that police departments will bring criminals to justice, not ignore their crimes.”

Smith and Kirk both said their agencies will explore legislative remedies to the statute of limitations if the case can’t be brought to trial.

Of course, that wouldn’t help the rape victim in this case.



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