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Memphis police put GPS monitoring devices on dozens of domestic assault victims

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Screen grab of Memphis Sexual Assault Kit Task Force monthly report for October 2017.

The Memphis Police Department is under fire for an alleged pattern of misconduct towards female victims of crime. The latest incident involves Sexual Assault Kit Taskforce revealing that dozens of sexual assault and domestic violence victims were outfitted with GPS ankle bracelets.

The October 2017 monthly report of the Sexual Assault Kit Taskforce acknowledge that 17 sex crimes victims and 52 domestic violence victims had been fitted with the devices, which are normally used only for those on probation, parole, or out on bail while awaiting trial.

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The idea is that victims can be alerted when alleged perpetrators come within a specified distance of the victims.

The Sexual Assault Kit Taskforce was created by the Memphis mayor’s office in 2014 after The New York Times reported that Memphis Police had failed to test 12,000 rape kits.

One of the most jarring examples of the implications of failing to test rape kits involved the case of Meaghan Ybos. Nine years after Ybos had reported a rape and had undergone the invasive evidence collection process known as a rape kit, she learned of a bizarre miscarriage of justice in Shelby County.

After Ybos had alerted police that an attacker described in news accounts resembled the man in here nightmares, Ybos learned that her rape kit had never been tested. After it was tested, police learned Ybos had been victimized by a man who went on to assault at least six additional women.

After realizing that police had botched her case, Ybos founded People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws. It was Ybos who discovered that nearly 70 victims of domestic violence and rape are wearing GPS monitoring devices, as explained in Injustice Today.

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“If somebody accused of rape is enough of a risk that a victim would need to wear a safety monitoring device,” said civil rights lawyer Carrie Goldberg, “then perhaps it would make more sense to rethink that [perpetrator’s] being on the streets in the first place.”

Ankle bracelets for victims “makes it seem like she’s the accused,” Goldberg explained. “And I don’t like that.”

In October, it was announced that Memphis Police Department Detective Ouita Knowlton would keep her job, despite leaking confidential investigative files to the family of a rape suspect.

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Detective Knowlton had been the supervisor of the DNA unit. Knowlton was demoted to sergeant and received a 20 day suspension in the case.

University of California, Davis law professor Elizabeth Joh saw that Memphis was using ankle monitors on victims and wondered, “What is going on here in Memphis?”

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Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich has also received harsh criticism. In August, Weirich had a public meltdown over a New York Times expose on woman who spent nine years in prison before having a conviction overturned.

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District Attorney Weirich was also the focus of a 2015 cover story over her controversial prosecutorial tactics.

As Ybos noted, the backlog of untested rape kits has revealed the DNA of at least two former Memphis Police Department officers.

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UPDATE: According to a source, the women were given a GPS device, but it doesn’t have to be worn and police were instructed to tell the women they they could opt-out if they desired. An earlier version of this story used the word ‘scandal’ which has been edited to ‘incident’ for clarification purposes.

UPDATE II: The original version of this report contained artwork showing GPS ankle bracelets being worn by a woman. After the Memphis Police Department said it was inaccurate to illustrate the story in such a manner, the artwork was updated to show a screenshot of the Memphis Sexual Assault Kit Task Force monthly report for October 2017 cited in the second paragraph of this report. The headline has also been updated to reflect the fact the Memphis Police Department says the GPS devices are not ankle worn. At no point did this report ever claim that victims were required to wear GPS monitoring devices.


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