Evidence from 1,100 cases destroyed by LAPD

LOS ANGELES, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Police Department accidentally destroyed biological evidence in at least 1,100 sexual assault cases since 1995, police officials acknowledged Monday.

A representative for the department told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee that detectives ordered DNA evidence destroyed for cases more than six years old because they were unaware the statute of limitations for rape was lengthened in 2001 from six years to 10 years.

“Clearly this is unacceptable,” said Laura Johnson, of LAPD’s support services division. “We have started intense training with detectives.”

The problem came to light in April, when the district attorney’s forensic science director complained that evidence in as many as 4,000 sexual assault cases in Los Angeles County might have been lost or destroyed by law enforcement over the last six years.

Although law enforcement officials disputed the report at the time, City Council members ordered LAPD officials to look into the matter and report back. On Monday, Johnson told city officials that the LAPD is continuing to review cases to determine the exact number of cases affected.

The new state statute permits prosecution of certain sex offense cases within 10 years of the offense or within one year from when a suspect is identified, whichever is longer. The extended statute of limitations doesn’t apply unless the DNA is analyzed within two years of the offense.

Peter Zavalo, head of the sheriff’s evidence unit, could not be reached Monday. In April, he said evidence can be destroyed only with approval from investigating officers. He said investigating officers do not issue such approvals unless the statute of limitations has expired or the cases have been tried and all appeals completed.

David Peterson, commanding officer of the LAPD’s property and evidence unit, said officials concluded that evidence was destroyed in 1,100 cases by taking a random sampling of their files.

Asked why investigators would not be kept up to date on the 2001 change in the statute of limitations law, he said: “I can’t give you an intelligent answer. You have turnover and people are unfamiliar with it.”