Systematic failure delays investigation into rape of 4-year-old 2:07
This statue of a police officer holding a child stands outside the Kansas City Police Department Headquarters downtown. Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté declined an interview to discuss a detective unit’s problems, which are the subject of an ongoing internal investigation. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker
Several detectives suspended
BY GLENN E. RICE
AND DONNA MCGUIRE Kansas City Star
AND IAN CUMMINGS
For years, Kansas City police detectives failed to properly investigate some rapes, serious abuse and other crimes against the city’s children. And in many instances, detectives did no work at all, internal police department memos recently obtained by The Star reveal.
A special squad assigned a year ago to help clear backlogged cases uncovered those problems and many others so serious that in January Police Chief Darryl Forté suspended nearly the entire Crimes Against Children unit of detectives and sergeants. At the time, Forté said cases were being worked too slowly.
But police never disclosed the depth and scope of the detectives’ inaction on reported crimes — sexual assaults, broken bones, near starvation among them. The department’s own memos describe 148 “severely mishandled” cases, “gross negligence,” “incompetence” and evidence of attempts to “cover up.”
“Never in my career with the KCPD have I seen such a systemic failure,” Maj. David Lindaman wrote in a Nov. 19 memo to a deputy chief that was among hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Star.
Lindaman blamed sergeants for poor supervision, detectives for not holding themselves accountable and commanders — himself included — “for allowing this organizational failure to develop over the past four years.”
According to the memos, many cases sat idle for months. Fifty sat idle for more than a year, including the report of a 4-year-old girl who had been raped and infected with a sexually transmitted disease.
Relatives told The Star that they called the detective six or seven times after their lone meeting with her but never heard back. For more than a year, they looked over their shoulders fearful that the rapist could be near when, as it turned out, the suspect sat locked in a Kansas jail on another child rape allegation, easy to find for anyone actually looking for him.
“These (detectives) are the people we called to protect us,” a relative of the 4-year-old told The Star. “I feel like they were just throwing our case away.”
The memos describe numerous other investigations that languished for many months, sometimes from the beginning of the case and other times after a detective spent some time investigating. They included reports of:
▪ 4- and 5-year-old malnourished and neglected children who had been sodomized by a sex offender living in their home.
▪ An 11-month-old child who suffered a skull fracture and another 11-month-old with a broken femur.
▪ A 12-year-old runaway raped by three men, at least one of whom she identified to police.
Detectives closed cases they could have solved, the documents detail. They never questioned some named suspects. They failed to follow a lead involving DNA.
And they left a handgun, cellphones, DVDs of recorded interviews with children and a range of other evidence in desks for months, even years, sometimes without any note to indicate what case the evidence accompanied.
The department’s failures — The Star found in extensive reporting — impact hospital staff, child welfare workers and child interview specialists whose efforts, often before detectives got assigned, went for naught. The failures handicap prosecutors who have had to delay filing charges or couldn’t file them at all.
And ultimately the failures steal from victimized children the chance to obtain justice — and safety.
When The Star recently asked Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker whether the detectives’ inaction left any children in peril, she paused, sighed and paused again for several seconds.
“Move on to another question,” she finally said. She declined to be more specific but said, “It pains me to think about that.”
|Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd|
Forté declined an interview and would not allow his command staff to publicly discuss the unit’s problems or the ongoing internal investigation.
But in a written statement, Forté called the suspensions an unprecedented step in the department’s history, saying “but it was one we felt was needed to properly serve and protect our city’s most vulnerable victims.”
He noted that in April, the department created a quality-control unit that has reviewed tens of thousands of cases handled by patrol officers and investigators to make sure cases are being handled thoroughly and in a timely fashion.
He declined to provide specifics about the internal investigation into the Crimes Against Children unit.
“We want to thoroughly review our processes and actions of all personnel involved,” Forté wrote. “Because that investigation is not complete and because it is an internal one, I cannot comment any further about it.”
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99, the union that represents the detectives, said in a statement Thursday that it would not speak about the investigation until it is completed. Officers are entitled to due process, the statement said.
“As police officers there is a no greater responsibility than protecting the most vulnerable victims in our community,” Sgt. Brad Lemon, the lodge president, said in the statement after The Star published this story online. “Public trust and transparency is important to us. Children who suffer abuse or neglect need to feel comfortable that they can report the crimes against them to police and their cases will be handled rigorously and swiftly.”
Police commanders knew of problems in the unit as early as 2011, when several attempts by a sergeant trying to deal with “less than satisfactory performance by several detectives” was “met with resistance from command staff,” Lindaman wrote in a memo.
Lindaman asked higher-ups for another sergeant to help supervise the unit, but it took a year to get one.
The memo recounted other, ongoing personnel problems — and inaction on solving them.
Then in the summer of 2015, according to the memos, Baker complained to police that Jackson County prosecutors “could not continue to go to court on cases that took over a year to investigate.”
That spurred Lindaman to ask the special victims’ unit commander to research how many of the children’s unit cases were at least six months old.
That commander found several hundred cases. Many were more than a year old.
The special response team launched in mid-September 2015. Initially, members examined 242 cases identified as older than six months.
They found “some type of failure to properly investigate” in 115, or nearly half.
Memos about extensive problems soon began shooting up the chain of command.
|KC Police Chief Forte|
It appeared that several underperforming members of the unit had tried to cover their tracks through “deception or possibly an intentional cover-up of the failure to properly investigate,” Seward wrote.
As the special response team expanded its review to more cases, it found more problems.
Eventually other memos, many written by Seward, detailed problems found in the 148 “severely mishandled” cases.
By November, the team’s findings had prompted an internal affairs investigation.
Meanwhile, children’s unit detectives continued working, mostly on newer cases.
In early December, one of the detectives went on indefinite leave. The special response team checked that person’s desk for any notes, files or other paperwork that needed to be completed.
“During this examination, many items indicating further failure to perform as expected were found,” Lindaman wrote.
Another problem surfaced in January, when special response team members tried to reconcile evidence in the property room with a database listing evidence detectives had procured. One detective had documented recovering 40 pieces of evidence that could not be found in the property room. Some was found in a desk, some not at all.
Those developments prompted Lindaman to recommend removal of seven of the unit’s eight detectives and two sergeants, “as it is impossible to assure the public these detectives can be trusted to conduct themselves professionally until a thorough internal investigation is completed,” he wrote in a January memo to Deputy Chief Cheryl Rose.
After about a week, the nine suspended officers were reinstated and reassigned to patrol units.
Little work done
The Crimes Against Children unit typically investigates about 1,000 cases a year involving victims 16 and younger who have been physically or sexually abused, neglected, kidnapped by parents or caught up in other violations of court-ordered custody.
Detectives collect evidence, interview witnesses and often collaborate with state child welfare workers, pediatricians, prosecutors and other child advocates, such as court-appointed lawyers. Sometimes they remove endangered children from homes.
Yet in case after case cited in the documents, police department memos point to a complete lack of investigation.
One detective never interviewed a schoolteacher who allegedly pulled a 16-year-old student by her hair, hard enough to give her a headache, because no video of the incident existed, one memo said.
Another case involved a 14-year-old girl who had been sexually molested for 10 years before telling someone at school in late 2014, just a month after the most recent incident. She identified a suspect, had a medical exam and answered questions asked by a forensic specialist. Yet 10 months later, the case file showed no work by the assigned detective.
A child endangerment case assigned in May 2015 involved seven children, ages 4 months to 10 years, living in a home with a “very large cockroach infestation.” Cockroaches crawled on the children, who slept on blankets on the floor. The case file showed crime scene photos, a state child welfare worker’s report and other information. But it showed no investigative work by the detective.
In late December 2013, Children’s Mercy Hospital reported a 3-year-old boy vomiting with stomach pain. He had internal injuries, multiple scars, facial bruises and fresh cuts below an eyebrow and on his bottom lip. He had a history of being abused by his father, who had custody when the new injuries happened. In a meeting the next month, the victim said, “Daddy did it.” Yet about 20 months later, shortly after the newly assigned detectives began uncovering problems in the Crimes Against Children unit, the case detective completed an inactivation report, writing: “I was unable to identify a suspect” and “I was unable to establish probable cause for child abuse.”
“I know that while these detectives have clearly failed to perform their duties as expected, they have also performed admirably on many other cases…, making this an even more perplexing situation,” Lindaman wrote in a memo.
It’s unclear what went wrong in the case of the 4-year-old girl reportedly raped by a man who left her battling the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia. The memo that referenced the case said it had not been investigated in any capacity for more than a year. The girl had told her father about it first. Then during an interview with a forensic specialist, the girl used dolls to explain what the man had done, court records show.
Hudson had been locked up the entire time in a Kansas jail after being accused of raping a 12-year-old girl just three months before the younger girl recounted her rape story.
By the time the newly assigned detectives uncovered the stalled case last fall, the suspect had gone through a mistrial in Wyandotte County on the other rape case but remained in custody on an unrelated felony charge. When he pleaded guilty to the other felony in August 2015, prosecutors dismissed the rape case.
On Oct. 26, he was sentenced to probation during a Wyandotte County District Court hearing. Afterward, he boarded a public transit bus to Missouri, unaware that Kansas City police now were watching. A street crimes tactical unit trailed the bus until Hudson disembarked at 10th and Main streets downtown, where officers tackled and arrested him.
The girl’s family didn’t learn of his arrest until one saw Hudson’s mug shot on a local television newscast two days later. Jackson County prosecutors had filed statutory rape and child molestation charges against Hudson, now 29. His case is pending.
Recently told about the memo revealing how the case had languished, the girl’s relative grew angry.
“What pisses me off is, this could have been done and over,” the relative said. “It is really frustrating that it was over a year before they opened it up, and he was sitting right there (in jail).”
Cases of deceit
After the scrutiny began, some detectives apparently tried to cover up their lack of work on cases, according to memos from Lindaman.
In some instances, the detectives added new notes to old cases describing work done years earlier.
They also suddenly closed dozens of cases, some that still contained good evidence and leads, apparently so the special review team would not see the cases. One four-person detective squad had closed 64 cases, an unusually high number, in September alone.
In one of his memos, Lindaman reported the existence of “enough data to indicate the possibility of deception in an attempt to close cases inappropriately so as not to come to my attention during this review.”
The review team soon reopened some of those cases to conduct “proper investigations,” a memo said.
One case concerned a 7-year-old who reported in 2014 being molested by her mother’s fiancee. The girl told her mother, who did nothing. The child then told her grandmother and Girl Scout leader.
But after the child’s interview, no work was recorded in the case file for nearly 10 months.
Only in September 2015, just before the special backlog review team arrived, did the detective begin making notes in the case again, sometimes late at night, about interviews with a witness and a school counselor that were dated as having occurred months before.
That same night, the detective also closed a 2013 case, first entering notes about an interview conducted two years earlier with a 14-year-old who identified a man who raped her while she baby-sat for a family member.
The review team reopened that case.
The pattern held in other cases, too.
The sergeant leading the review suggested an internal affairs investigation into the cases and others that were “intentionally and inappropriately closed.”
Baker said she wasn’t aware of the depth of the problems until police officials suspended nearly the entire Crimes Against Children unit in January.
She also didn’t know how poorly the detectives were tracking cases until an audit launched in February compared police records to prosecutor files. The audit covered cases dated from January 2011 through December 2015.
Detectives showed 216 cases listed as pending at the Jackson, Clay and Platte county prosecutors’ offices, the audit found.
In reality, only 12 actually were waiting for prosecutors to make charging decisions. Charges already had been filed in 81 cases but detectives had failed to properly update records.
Detectives marked nearly two dozen cases as sent to prosecutors for review that had not been, effectively delaying any further action until the review team caught the mistakes.
And — “most concerning,” as one police major noted in a memo — detectives themselves deemed 29 cases serious and strong enough for criminal charges but then ignored prosecutors’ demands for more work.
“There are still bad men and women out there hurting kids and anyone standing in the way of bringing these people to justice is giving aid and comfort to society’s greatest enemies,” said Clay County Prosecutor Daniel White.
Both he and Zahnd of Platte County said their offices have been able to prosecute suspects even when police investigations have lacked polish.
|Jackson Co. Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker|
“Because crimes against children are often repetitive in nature and many child sex abusers have multiple victims, it’s essential to investigate and charge cases quickly,” he said.
When evidence is not collected in a timely manner, there is a chance that a judge will throw it out, Baker said.
Before the suspension and the ongoing internal review, she tried a variety of ways to speed up the slowly moving cases.
She had an assistant prosecutor work directly with detectives; conducted weekly meetings between police and prosecutors; and utilized the Child Protection Center on an around-the-clock basis so victims could be interviewed more quickly.
Baker now worries about all criminal cases these detectives have touched.
Their credibility as key witnesses lies at the heart of the documents that The Star obtained. The police department’s memos about detectives and the unit’s failures have become part of many ongoing criminal cases because discovery rules require prosecutors to disclose information that could undermine witnesses’ believability. The Star obtained hundreds of pages of documents from sources involved in such cases.
In May, Baker was so concerned that she demanded in a letter to Forté that two of the detectives be blocked from doing any police work that could require them to become witnesses. What she had learned about the detectives, she told him, “left me dismayed, disheartened, and frankly, angry.”
“Please do not allow another child or other member of this community to be victimized by allowing either of these detectives to respond to a 911 call, transport evidence…or serve in any capacity where justice must be served,” she wrote. “Their involvement in a criminal case only works to its detriment and justice can only be sought in spite of their actions and inactions.”
Defense lawyers have been requesting internal police memos and internal affairs information to search for ways to impeach the detectives at trial.
Jurors can be told if detectives have falsified documents, were slow to interview victims or failed to complete an investigation, said John Picerno, a defense lawyer.
“Certainly that is something the jury is going to take quite seriously,” Picerno said. “It is like with any other witness, whether it is a jailhouse snitch or a co-defendant testifying or an eyewitness, and we will utilize it if we think it affects the witness’ credibility.”
Baker said Jackson County prosecutors would continue to push the children’s cases.
“Investigations may be flawed or less than perfect, but that does not mean the defendant is not guilty of the crimes they’ve been accused of doing. We will do everything possible to bring justice for the victim,” Baker said in a statement released after The Star published this story online.
As problems with the Kansas City unit grew, agencies tasked with caring for children did not receive proper service from police, according to a department memo from a sergeant brought in to deal with the backlog.
Those agencies included the Child Protection Center, Synergy Services, the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services, and Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Children’s Mercy treats about 3,000 children each year for physical or sexual abuse. Some have broken bones. Some have been burned or raped.
After treating injuries, doctors often spend hours examining a child and collecting evidence to identify abuse. Even when doctors are as gentle as possible, the examinations can be difficult for children who are already traumatized.
To think that those efforts could be wasted is “frustrating,” said James Anderst, a child abuse pediatrician and director of the hospital’s child abuse and neglect division.
“Our work only has a societal impact if our partners take it and use it appropriately,” Anderst said.
By last year, frustrations with the Kansas City unit’s failings had reached across the state.
In Callaway County, east of Columbia, state caseworker Christina Winter tried for months without success to get answers from a Kansas City detective about what would happen to four children brought to her area to stay with relatives during an abuse investigation.
The children had been removed from their Kansas City home after it was reported two of them, ages 4 and 5, had been sodomized by a known sex offender. The children had been found living in conditions of “gross neglect” and appeared malnourished, a memo said.
For more than a year, police memos show, detectives did no work on the investigation.
Winter said the detective seemed annoyed at her questions — posed in an exchange of 35 emails between July and October. At one point the detective wrote, “Unfortunately, our office has been inundated with a lot of high profile incidents, such as shootings, that have occupied my attention. The case is open and is being investigated.”
Winter took away the impression “that these children were being put very last on the list, that what happened to them was not important to them. That they weren’t (the detective’s) first priority and they weren’t going to be.”
She was unhappy to learn that even after a new detective finished the case, it could not be prosecuted because it was too old.
Things better now
So far this year, prosecutors, social workers and child advocates say they’ve seen a difference since the unit was overhauled.
The current detectives care about the children, Baker said.
“This unit is doing the kind of work that I demand of them,” she said. “I haven’t met a child yet that is not worthy of all of us working long hours and putting all of us through the paces to do the very best job possible on their behalf.”
Winter, the social worker in Callaway County, said the new detective assigned to that case seemed much more responsive and effective.
Lisa Mizell, chief executive officer of the Child Protection Center, said she had noticed a marked improvement in the work of detectives this year. The department brings more than 500 children a year to the center, which specializes in interviewing children.
“I think once they found out what they were dealing with there, they took it very seriously. And I’ve been impressed with how they confronted it,” she said.
In his written statement to The Star, Forté also emphasized the improvements.
“I am confident that the checks and balances we have put in place since the beginning of the year can give our community confidence that their cases will be handled professionally, investigated thoroughly and be of the quality that represents the greatest chance for prosecution and conviction,” he said.