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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit claiming Travis County DA, Austin police mishandled sexual assault cases

The lawsuit was filed in June 2018 claiming the county and police department committed several violations when handling the women's cases.

AUSTIN, Texas — Federal Judge Lee Yeakel on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed on the behalf of eight women claiming the Travis County District Attorney's Office and the Austin Police Department mishandled their sexual assault cases.

The lawsuit was filed in June 2018 against the City of Austin, Travis County, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, former Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and former Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. 

The suit claims the defendants committed federal and state violations by:

  • "Refusing to implement or ignore proper training and supervision of government employees handling sexual assault cases; 
  • Allocating more resources to other violent crimes than to sexual assaults against female victims; 
  • Failing to submit or timely test Sexual Assault Kits
  • Prioritizing the submission or testing of DNA evidence from other violent crimes over Sexual Assault Kits; 
  • Purposely or knowingly using or contracting with labs that do not have the capacity to timely and accurately test or analyze Sexual Assault Kits; 
  • Purposely or knowingly using labs with known contamination and competency problems for the testing or analyzing of Sexual Assault Kits; 
  • Ignoring or refusing to use Sexual Assault Kit results to prevent additional rapes and sexual assaults;

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  • Knowingly omitting from communications with victims of sexual assault that it is unlikely their Sexual Assault Kits will be timely tested and that an investigation will not be completed in the absence of those results; 
  • Failing to arrest and charge known perpetrators of sexual assault against female victims; 
  • Disproportionately dismissing cases or refusing to investigate or proceed with sexual assault cases when the victim is female; 
  • Traumatizing female victims of sexual assault in the course of their interactions with Defendants by, among other things, refusing to treat their testimony as adequate evidence regarding lack of consent; 
  • Overemphasizing or focusing on unfounded professed concerns about lack of DNA or credibility, when such concerns are not applied to: (i) other violent crimes, like robbery, non-sexual assault, and homicide; or (ii) sexual assaults committed against male victims; 
  • Intentionally or knowingly subjecting women to invasive collection of bodily tissues or DNA with actual or constructive knowledge that such evidence will not be used to apprehend or potentially prosecute their attackers; 
  • Subjecting female victims and other women to future assaults by known perpetrators by failing to act on, investigate, or prosecute prior sexual assaults against women; 
  • Disproportionately refusing to investigate, process, or prosecute in cases involving sexual assault against female victims without DNA evidence; 
  • Treating sexual assault cases involving female victims with less urgency and importance than is afforded to other types of violent crimes; 
  • Inadequately staffing the investigation, processing and prosecutions of sexual assault cases involving female victims; and 
  • Treating female victims of sexual assaults with less respect and devote less attention to their cases than to cases involving male victims, as applied to both sexual assaults and other crimes."

The plaintiffs have spoken at a number of press conferences since filing the suit, saying that they did not feel prioritized and that the defendants violated the rights of women and discriminated based on gender when handling their cases. The suit claims that although more than 1,000 women report sexual assault incidents to Austin police each year, less than 10 cases make it to trial. 

In the 86th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature in 2019, lawmakers passed multiple bills designed to change the manner in which sexual assault cases are investigated and prosecuted in Texas. One of those was the Lavinia Masters Act, which imposes deadlines for sexual assault kits to be submitted for testing and to be analyzed, among other things. Additionally, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also signed a bill creating a sexual assault survivors task force. House Bill 616, House Bill 3106, and House Bill 1 were also passed regarding sexual assault. 

At the city level, the Austin City Council passed a resolution in January 2019 directing the city manager to hire an outside group to evaluate how the city investigates sexual assaults.

In December 2018, the APD released a preliminary report from a DPS audit regarding the department's handling of sexual assault cases.

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