Robbins mayor eyes changes after rape-kit scandal
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org August 20, 2013 4:14PM
Robbins Mayor Tyrone Ward (at podium) discusses the untested rape kits found in the Robbins Police Department. | Casey Toner/Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 22, 2013 6:29AM
As Cook County authorities contemplate prosecuting a 22-year-old rape case from Robbins, amid a scandal over police ignoring many rape cases for nearly 30 years, village officials on Tuesday offered a new vision for the troubled town.
Robbins has a new mayor and a new police chief, and they hope to put behind them a scandal centering on the discovery early this year of 201 rape kits, some dating to 1986, in an evidence room at the police department.
“We pride ourselves on integrity and making a positive footprint in this village,” Mayor Tyrone Ward said Tuesday at a press conference. “If there are any victims that have been affected, we ask, in cooperation with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, to step forward so we can prevent anything like this from happening ever again.”
Ward, who was elected in April to replace longtime mayor Irene Brodie, expressed gratitude to the Robbins resident who spoke out publicly this month about her sexual assault and near-murder in 1991 when she was 14 — attacked while she walked home from basketball practice.
After the victim submitted to having a rape kit created and the kit was processed in the Illinois State Police crime lab, Robbins police never followed up on the case, sheriff’s police said.
“We commend her for her bravery for speaking out against this department’s previous missed opportunity,” Ward said, adding that he hoped the village would host a walk-a-thon fundraiser benefiting the rape victims.
DNA evidence from the woman’s rape kit was matched in May via a national DNA database to a man who is out of prison after serving 14 years for armed robbery, according to sheriff’s police. They said the statute of limitations expired in 1996 regarding the attack on the woman, and the alleged rapist never was charged.
The two Robbins police detectives who were assigned the 1991 rape case, Jerome McGee and James Cooper, eventually were imprisoned for taking bribes from a drug dealer.
The woman’s rape kit was one of 201 discovered by sheriff’s police in January in the police station’s evidence room. Sheriff’s police have been assisting Robbins police with patrols since February.
Cara Smith, chief of policy for the sheriff’s department, said Tuesday that 150 of the kits were tested but never pursued by Robbins police, and 51 kits never were sent in for testing.
All since have been processed, and Smith said her office has seen a variety of results from the testing. Some of the kits were damaged beyond repair by water, while others were linked to known offenders and other cases, she said.
“We are close to having all of the paper and documents available pulled into one place,” Smith said. “Then the heavy-duty lifting occurs (in deciding) what do we do next.’”
Going forward, Smith encouraged all Robbins rape victims whose cases were not pursued to contact sheriff’s police. As far as prosecuting the old cases, Smith said she’s hopeful but not optimistic.
“I think it looks bleak, but frankly I’d rather go down swinging,” she said.
“When (the victims) have done all they can do, and when they’ve done everything right but the statute of limitation has closed the door on them, we have to do something about it, and we will,” Ward said.
To help his police force move forward, Ward said the village tapped Melvin Davis — a former police chief in Phoenix and University Park — as its new chief. Former Police Chief Johnny Holmes, who had worked intermittently as chief since 1991, retired in January after being charged with his second drunken driving violation in three years.
Davis said he hired a new deputy chief, commander, captain and an internal affairs officer when he took over. The department now employs five full-time police officers and 21 part-timers.
“It’s very relevant to separate the past from our future voyage,” Ward said about the changes he foresees for the impoverished village of about 5,300.
Robbins resident Robby Richardson said he knew Ward from around the neighborhood and planned to give him a chance.
“Over the years, nobody has done nothing,” Richardson said. “It’s just Robbins — it stays the same.”