Attorney General Mike Hunter announced his office will assume authority over and responsibility for the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Task Force going forward.
Hunter said the committee has been working toward a global solution to both the existing backlog of untested kits and a plan moving forward. “There is still information gathering to be done,” Hunter said. “The committee has some very specific recommendations.”
The decision to place the Task Force under the State AG’s office is a result of both Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Kevin Stitt and Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Drew Edmondson’s support to put the functions of the task force under the purview of the Attorney General’s Office.
“The members of the task force made monumental strides throughout the course of their meetings,” Hunter said. “They have produced a solid foundation of policy recommendations. I look forward to working with the members of the task force and members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle in a deliberate way to deliver meaningful reforms and the funding necessary to assist law enforcement efforts to bring justice for victims.”
Hunter said legislation is needed to ensure this level of backlog is never reached again. Since Gov. Mary Fallin first asked for information about backlogged sexual assault kits to be compiled in April 2017, the total for Oklahoma has risen to 6,954.
In March 2018, Ardmore Police Deputy Chief Kevin Norris reported 41 untested evidence kits for the city. Reported back log numbers for other local agencies include Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police (3), Davis Police (1), East Central University Police (1), Healdton Police (2), Lone Grove Police (0), Madill Police(1), Marietta Police (0), Johnston County Sheriff (4) and Love County Sheriff (1). Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant reported no untested kits.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Hunter said. “In order to get the state where it needs to be and further support victims, we must put political differences aside and work together to find practical solutions.”
A large part of that solution, according to Hunter, is finding an author for legislation to build and implement a plan to decide which backlogged kits will be tested. “Sen. [Kay] Floyd is on the committee and seems likely to author that bill,” Hunter said. “The test kits need a standardized process for testing. There must also be standards for preservation that maintain the evidence for the duration of the statute of limitations, which is 50 years. Once a protocol is established, more involvement will be required to make sure the kits are handled in such a way it will not impede investigations or the ability to prosecute.”
Another issue facing the Task Force is funding for the testing of backlogged and future evidence kits — to the tune of $12 million. “That funding will have to not only be identified but also be dedicated to testing,” Hunter said.
“In order for this to be productive, an inventory is required,” Hunter said. “There’s just gotta be a record that’s available so those with a legal need can determine where the kit is.” Hunter said there will also be a need for training for law enforcement and others involved in the kit collection process.
“My goal is to fast track the legislation,” Hunter said.
The next meeting will be publicly announced at a later date.