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Houston police review potential suspect DNA matches in over 4,000 dropped sexual assault cases

The dropped sexual assault cases from the past eight years are among over 264,000 incident reports that were never submitted for investigation due to an internal code citing staff shortages

By Juan A. Lozano
Associated Press

HOUSTON — Houston police said Thursday that they are still reviewing if DNA testing in connection with thousands of sexual assault and sex crime cases that were dropped due to staffing issues could have led officers to potential suspects and possible arrests.

The more than 4,000 sexual assault cases that were dropped by police in the past eight years are part of more than 264,000 incident reports that were never submitted for investigation as officers assigned them an internal code that cited a lack of available personnel. Police Chief Troy Finner first made public the existence of the dropped cases in February.

During a news conference Thursday, police Cmdr. Elizabeth Lorenzana said that after meeting March 27 with the city’s crime lab, the Houston Forensic Science Center, officials were told that of the 4,000 sexual assault incident reports, more than 1,100 had sexual assault kits that had been tested for DNA.

The crime lab also reviewed nearly 5,100 incident reports related to indecent assaults and exposures and reported that 57 had kits tested for DNA.

All the DNA testing in these cases resulted in 95 with matches to suspects in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, database.

Finner said police are reviewing those 95 matches and conducting additional investigations. Many of those cases involve either victims who don’t want to move forward or whom officers have not been able to contact, or suspects who have already been charged.

Lorenzana said officials are still trying to determine when during the past eight years officers were notified by the crime lab about the matches on CODIS and whether anything was done with this information before an ongoing internal review.

Finner said the investigation, expected to be completed by the end of the month, will provide answers to who created the internal code and why officers continued to use it even after he ordered his command staff in November 2021 to stop using it after learning of its existence. Finner said he learned on Feb. 7 that the code was still being used, prompting the probe.

The code, part of the department’s record management system, was created in 2016, years before Finner became chief in April 2021.

“Let’s move forward to do whatever we can to expedite investigating these cases, look at our processes, look at who did what, when,” Finner said. “But I hear the frustration. We all are frustrated. This is Houston, this is HPD and I expect better.”

Last month Mayor John Whitmire announced the creation of an independent panel to review police handling of the dropped incident reports.

“I am confident in the process. I have confidence in Chief Finner, who wants to resolve this as much as anyone that can hear my voice,” Whitmire said Wednesday. “He’s begun the process of reviewing it. He’s going to give a report, and then there will be accountability for all of us.”

Two assistant chiefs have already been demoted over their roles in the matter.

Finner said officers have reviewed 81,650 of the 264,000 suspended incident reports. About 26,000 of them should have been suspended but under a different internal code related to a lack of leads, arrest by a patrol officer or arrest by emergency detention order.

Five people have been charged in connection with a review of 807 domestic violence cases that are part of the dropped cases, according to Finner.