(Washington, DC) – Comments by the Washington, DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier reported in the news media suggest that the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) may not have provided documents it was legally obligated to release in response to a freedom of information request and a settlement agreement, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Chief Lanier. The reported comments also raise troubling questions about the department's commitment to addressing serious problems in its treatment of sexual assault victims, Human Rights Watch said.
In a report released on January 24, 2013, Human Rights Watch said that, based on a review of police department records from between 2008 and 2011, the police had failed to investigate or even document at least 170 sexual assault complaints from victims who went to the Washington Hospital Center, the hospital designated for forensic examinations of sexual assault victims. The report also concluded that the department did not follow up adequately on a significant number of other complaints, and in several cases treated sexual assault victims callously.
In comments this week to The Washington Post and NBC, Chief Lanier claimed to have located “documentation” for either 109 or 116 of the missing cases. The MPD has not provided the documentation to Human Rights Watch or explained what it includes, Human Rights Watch said.
“We find it deeply disturbing that the MPD did not produce these records sooner, and it still hasn’t,” said Alison Parker, Director of the United States program at Human Rights Watch. “The MPD was legally required to provide all of this documentation to Human Rights Watch and repeatedly assured us that it had done so.”
Both under Freedom of Information Act requirements and terms of an August 21, 2012 settlement agreement with Human Rights Watch, the MPD was legally obligated to provide all relevant documentation to Human Rights Watch, including all “incident reports” – known as PD-251s, which are required for any case to be investigated – for the cases under analysis. Over several months of communication with Human Rights Watch, MPD representatives said that they had produced all relevant PD-251s.
Chief Lanier should hand over any newly discovered records, Human Rights Watch said.
In addition, contrary to Chief Lanier’s statements to the news media, Human Rights Watch provided the MPD with lists of cases for which documentation was missing more than seven months before the report was published.
“Human Rights Watch offered the MPD many opportunities to provide additional data or witnesses, and we have responded immediately to MPD requests for information about specific cases and data on which we were basing our findings,” Parker said.
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern over statements in which Chief Lanier appeared to minimize the experiences of victims reporting mistreatment by the police.
“The MPD should be aware that publicly undermining or dismissing the concerns of individual victims brave enough to come forward reduces the likelihood that others will feel comfortable speaking to the MPD about their experiences,” Parker said. “The MPD should take steps to regain the trust of victims, not further damage it.”