Attorney General Brad Schimel said Tuesday that all untested evidence from sexual assaults is on its way to labs for testing, and again promised that all evidence related to the unsolved assaults will be analyzed by the end of 2018.
Schimel made the announcement at a time when he is seeking a second term overseeing the Department of Justice and is being accused by his Democratic challenger of moving too slowly to test evidence collected by law enforcement and medical professionals after thousands of sexual assaults.
The evidence, known as sexual assault kits, has gone untested for years — in some cases decades — because the kits were not forwarded to the DOJ from local law enforcement agencies or hospitals.
In 2015, Schimel and DOJ officials began a process using $7 million in federal grant funding to identify all untested kits to determine which kits should be analyzed.
The review revealed that evidence related to nearly 7,000 sexual assaults had not been tested. DOJ officials determined about 4,100 cases in which victims gave DOJ permission to test their evidence to identify suspects. The last 48 kits requiring testing were sent to private crime labs on Tuesday, Schimel said.
“As a former sensitive crimes prosecutor, I knew when I was elected attorney general that there was more our state could do to create better outcomes for survivors,” Schimel told reporters Tuesday. “Today’s milestone is significant. This work is about much more than just testing kits. It’s about bringing justice that’s overdue to survivors. It’s about preventing future crimes, and it’s about changing the culture surrounding the response to sexual assault.”
But Schimel has been heavily criticized by Democrats for the pace of the testing, which began in 2016 at the DOJ crime lab and has since expanded to contracted private labs. As of Tuesday, 1,884 kits — or fewer than half of the total number slated for analysis — had been tested.
“Brad Schimel’s failure to prioritize the elimination of the backlog has meant that justice has been delayed for survivors and that dangerous criminals have remained on the streets longer than they should have,” said Josh Kaul, a former federal prosecutor who is challenging Schimel in November. “Schimel should have made the elimination of the rape-kit backlog a priority as soon as he took office, but, instead, only nine of the kits in the backlog were tested in his first two years as AG.”
Martha Laning, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, also characterized Schimel’s handling of the untested evidence as moving the kits “from one shelf to another shelf.”
Schimel on Tuesday pushed back against that criticism, saying the department initiated the effort to identify untested evidence, and when the department took on the task, not one private lab responded to DOJ’s request for bids.
Eventually, one lab agreed to contract with the state. In 2018, two more private labs contracted with the state, and officials there have given DOJ assurances they can test all 2,271 outstanding kits by the end of the year, DOJ spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg said.
DOJ officials said the department was initially limited to sending 200 kits per month to be tested at one private lab because other states and local governments were “flooding the system with their simultaneous efforts to test kits in their own communities.”
“We have moved this process as quick as we can given the circumstances we face,” Schimel said.
A DOJ news release said more than 30 jurisdictions have “identical” testing efforts under way, totaling nearly 44,000 kits that are at labs for testing. The release also said few labs are accredited and eligible to do such testing.
Though the kits will be tested by the end of 2018, a state analysis of the test results will not be complete in that time frame, Schimel said. The state analysis is needed to identify suspects and start prosecution.
So far, two suspects have been prosecuted since the testing began.
Schimel told reporters Tuesday he didn’t expect to spend any state money on the testing, which has so far been paid for with federal grant money.