article by Rachel Dissell
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson on Wednesday appointed a commission to examine how police handle sexual assault and missing person cases in the city.
Police and city prosecutors' response to those cases has come under intense scrutiny in the last month after the remains of 11 women were found in the Imperial Avenue home of suspected serial killer Anthony Sowell.
The Plain Dealer reported that six of those women were killed after police failed to aggressively pursue allegations that Sowell attacked two other women in the past 12 months.
There was also public outcry about police action -- or inaction -- on missing persons, with families saying they were dissuaded from making reports and were forced to canvass neighborhoods and offer rewards on their own.
The three-member commission will examine city policies and practices, compare them to the best practices around the county and, if warranted, recommend changes.
"We haven't given them any boundaries," Jackson said.
However, Jackson made it clear the group will not specifically review police response related to the Imperial Avenue case. An internal review will take place after the criminal case against Sowell is closed, he said.
Cleveland Rape Crisis Center Director Megan O'Bryan, one of the three members, said she hopes the panel's work will be an opportunity to create change out of a terrible tragedy.
The commission can "look at the possibility of systemic change so we can make our community healthier and safer," she said.
O'Bryan will be joined on the panel by Assistant Director of Public Safety Mary Bounds and Attorney Teresa Beasley.
Sowell has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 11 counts of aggravated murder and other charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
He also was charged in three other attacks on women, including the two which police initially failed to aggressively pursue in 2008 and last year.
In one of those cases, authorities decided the victim was not credible and said there was not enough evidence to file charges.
In another case police delayed getting a warrant to search Sowell's house for evidence for weeks because they could not reach the woman who made the report.
Last week, a Cuyahoga County grand jury found enough evidence to issue indictments in those cases and another stemming from an Oct. 20 incident.
Executive Director of End Violence Against Women International Joanne Archambault, said that the commission members will not only have to review policies and data, but as a lot of questions about why things are done the way they are.
Archambault, a retired San Diego sex crimes supervisor and expert in sexual assault training and investigations, said the commission members should ask why cases are deemed unfounded; why victims couldn't be located or seem hesitant to cooperate with police; and why a certain cases are closed and others are left open, she said.
Archambault said they also might want to question the reason for a single unit that investigates sex offenses and child abuse, as well as examine the ratios of detectives to the population and caseload.
"Luckily for them this has been done to a large extent elsewhere," she said." There are a lot of tools out there already created to make these comparisons and help ask these questions." The sex crimes unit has been examined before.
Members of the Special Commission on Missing Persons and Sex Crimes Investigations were appointed Wednesday by Mayor Frank Jackson, who touted their collective expertise in criminal justice, law enforcement, victim advocacy and sexual assault cases.
An attorney with Vorys, Sater Seymour and Pease LLP, Beasley, 44, is a former Cleveland law director and serves on the board of trustees of many organizations.
Cleveland's assistant safety director, Bounds, 62, served as Cleveland's first female police chief for six months in 2001-2002 and retired from the department in 2005.
As president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, O'Bryan, 39, oversaw an expansion of the center's therapeutic and educational outreach services.
|Panel to review Cleveland police handling of missing person and sexual assault cases|