HOUSTON (CN) — A serial rapist sexually assaulted a woman in 2011 and was not convicted of it until 2016, due to Houston officials’ indifference to a backlog of more than 6,000 untested rape kits, the woman says in a federal class action.
D.B. says in her lawsuit that in April 2011 a man later identified as David Lee Cooper saw her walking in Houston and offered her a ride. She declined, she says, but she did tell Cooper her car was not running.
“Cooper then said he was a mechanic. D.B. could see his hands were oily indicating he might be a mechanic,” according to the Sept. 24 complaint.
Cooper persuaded her he was a mechanic and she let him drive her to her apartment, where he inspected her car and said it needed a new motor. He asked for a drink of water and she took him inside her apartment to get some, she says.
“Cooper turned violent and threw D.B. to the floor and repeatedly struck her, bit her several times, and raped her,” the complaint states.
She managed to escape and ran from the apartment, and with Cooper in pursuit, encountered a male friend, who chased Cooper. “Cooper ran to his vehicle and fled,” the lawsuit states.
D.B. says she called Houston police and a relative took her to a Houston hospital, “where a SAKS rape kit was done.” The hospital gave her anti-STD drugs but told her they were not 100 percent effective.
A Houston police officer took the rape kit to the Houston Police Department “ostensibly for testing and to be used as evidence in the investigation of the sexual assault and rape,” she says. But the city let it sit untested for five years.
However, a Houston police detective called her and asked her why she was “on Bissonnet,” a street known as a prostitution track, implying that she was a prostitute.
“The HPD detective made it seem the rape was her fault and discouraged D.B. from filing a report as it was unlikely the suspect would be caught. The HPD detective never showed up at D.B.’s residence or requested that he meet D.B.,” the complaint states.
Police let her rape kit languish in an evidence room for five years, and she heard nothing about it until the Harris County District Attorney’s Office contacted her in 2016 and told her tests showed it had genetic material that matched Cooper’s DNA, D.B. says in the complaint.
She learned that Cooper’s DNA had been in an FBI database since 1991, and that he had been charged with rape in 1991 and 1994. His rap sheet includes convictions for attempted kidnapping, home burglary and DUI, according to the complaint.
D.B. sued Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Police Chief Art Acevedo and several of their predecessors.
Quality control problems led the city to shut down its police crime lab in 2002. To regain public trust, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker spearheaded creation of the Houston Forensic Science Center, which took over nearly all HPD’s forensic investigations in 2014.
The center immediately started testing a backlog of 6,663 rape kits, some dating back to the 1980s, and by February 2015 it had tested them all, according to its website.
D.B. says the center’s testing helped prosecutors tie Cooper to several other attacks, and he pleaded guilty in December 2016 to raping her in 2011, to the 2002 sexual assault of a child and to a 2009 sexual assault.
“David Lee Cooper is a serial rapist who could have been stopped in 1991, 1994, 2002, 2005 and in 2009 before he sexually assaulted and raped D.B.,” the complaint states. D.B. seeks to represent two subclasses of more than 6,000 women and several hundred children: one group whose rape kits were not timely sent by Houston or Harris County law enforcement for testing; the other who were sexually assaulted by serial rapists due to the lack of prompt testing.
She seeks damages for negligence, personal injuries, failure to protect, and violations of due process and equal protection.
She also wants a special master appointed to oversee the city’s rape investigations.
She is represented by Houston attorneys Randall Kallinen, Charles Peckham and Roy Rodney.
Peter Stout, CEO and president of the Houston Forensic Science Center, is also a defendant.
Stout declined to comment on the lawsuit for the Houston Chronicle, but he touted the center’s work on rape kits.
“Since taking over management of the Houston Police Department’s forensic operations in 2014, HFSC has eliminated legacy and incoming backlogs of sexual assault evidence. A legacy backlog inherited from HPD that dated back to the 1980s has been eliminated. HFSC’s goal is to have a sustainable, average 30-day turnaround time for all evidence, including that which is related to sexual assault,” he told the Chronicle.
Houston’s troubled history with rape kits is part of a statewide problem. Texas officials reported in 2011 that the state had a backlog of 20,000 kits. Thanks in part to $11 million legislators earmarked in 2013 to process the kits, the backlog has been reduced to around 3,000, the Texas Tribune reported last week.
A new law written by state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, aims to get the public involved in paying for rape kits. Starting in 2018, Texans applying for and renewing driver’s licenses and identification cards, can donate funds to test rape kits, the Tribune reported.