Swanson forms task force to review rape investigations

Attorney general Lori Swanson announces she is running for governor.
Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson announces she is running for governor during a press conference at the Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis on June 4, 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News File

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson on Tuesday joined a chorus of politicians calling to address police departments' handling of sexual assault cases, forming a new task force in light of a Star Tribune investigation that discovered widespread failings.

The Minneapolis newspaper published a yearlong investigation that analyzed more than 1,000 sexual assault cases from 20 different departments statewide over a recent two-year period and discussed individual cases with victims who felt their cases weren't adequately handled. Their review found that police departments never assigned an investigator in 25 percent of reported cases, never interviewed witnesses in half of them.

Just a quarter of the cases were forwarded to prosecutors for possible criminal charges. Less than 1 in 10 of the cases reviewed by the Star Tribune resulted in a conviction.

Minnesota law enforcement representatives called the newspaper's finding troubling but not surprising. Nate Gove, director of the Peace Officer Standards and Training board, said many law enforcement agencies don't have enough time or money to investigate every case.

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But the investigation triggered prompt outrage and sharp response from other state officials, including state lawmakers and office-seekers.

Sen. Warren Limmer, a top Republican, promised Monday that lawmakers would "be digging deeper in public hearings to find out why Minnesota's law enforcement agencies have failed so many women" when they return next year. Gubernatorial hopeful and state Rep. Erin Murphy called for a task force to audit police department investigations of sexual assaults.

Like Murphy, Swanson is running in an Aug. 14 Democratic primary for governor. The task force announced Tuesday would include victim advocates, law enforcement representatives, health care professionals and lawmakers. Spokesman Ben Wogsland said the final makeup of the task force hadn't yet been determined.

Swanson indicated it should consider policies and training for departments to impose when handling sexual assault cases, noting that Minnesota does not currently require such training of its officers.

"Victims of sexual assault deserve justice, and these cases deserve thorough and proper investigation and prosecution by the criminal justice system," she said. "My hope is that the task force can help identify reforms to make Minnesota a national leader in the handling of these cases."