BOISE — A sexual assault kit-tracking system introduced one year ago offers a snapshot of the state’s progress in analyzing kits in 2017, including a backlog of previously untested kits from previous years.
A series of reforms enacted during recent legislative sessions established new standards for the processing of sexual assault kits, including laws requiring law enforcement agencies to submit kits for testing within 30 days and to keep kits as evidence for longer periods of time.
Additionally, a new statewide system introduced at the start of 2017 — the first of its kind in the U.S. — allows victims to track their kits online through the evidence examination and storage process. The goal of the tracking system, according to Idaho State Police, was to increase transparency for victims and provide better direction and tools to law enforcement throughout the process.
Between all these reforms, it’s more clear when to submit sexual assault kits for testing than in the past, Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury said. “The tracking software, although it’s been a little bit of a learning curve, just kind of enhances the protocol.”
The Twin Falls Police Department sent in 18 new kits for testing in 2017, according to an ISP report published last week. Testing has been completed for 10 of those kits, and eight are currently in progress. The department has also logged one additional kit in the system that hasn’t been tested yet.
Meanwhile, dozens of years-old kits discovered on the shelves of the Twin Falls Police Department will soon be tested for the first time.
A 2016 audit of law enforcement agencies turned up hundreds of kits from agencies across the state that were never submitted to Idaho State Police Forensic Services for analysis.
Now, Twin Falls police will send 41 previously unsubmitted kits to the FBI for testing.
The state’s lab saw a 107 percent increase in its DNA testing workload in 2017, a combination of new sexual assault cases and older kits discovered in the audit. To help alleviate the state’s workload, the FBI will take on the bulk of older kits from cities across the state.
The unsubmitted kits from Twin Falls, dating as far back as 1999, are slated to be shipped to the FBI next February. But it’s likely that the FBI will move up that shipping date, said ISPFS director Matthew Gamette.
“If they don’t, I’m going to bring them into the state lab by 2018,” Gamette said. He said he hopes to have all unsubmitted kits tested by the end of the year.
But Gamette cautioned against jumping to conclusions about why a police department may not have sent a kit in for testing in 1999.
Up until recently, he said, the primary reason for testing a rape kit was to determine the identity of the perpetrator of an assault. In cases where there was no question of the alleged perpetrator — for example, if an accused rapist acknowledged that he had sex with his victim but claimed the encounter was consensual — a department may have seen no reason to submit a kit for testing.
“As I look back on a lot of these cases, especially in Idaho, that seems to be more the case than, ‘We just didn’t feel like investigating it,’” Gamette said.
While Kingsbury couldn’t immediately confirm the exact reasons why the 42 kits discovered in the Twin Falls audit were never sent in, he said he suspected that this was the case for most of the unsubmitted kits.
Today, however, authorities have another important reason for cataloguing forensic evidence from a sexual assault: to add the DNA of perpetrators to a larger database that can help identify serial assaulters.
“The game has changed,” Gamette said. “If the victim says you can test their kit and if a crime occurred, then it needs to be tested.”
Kingsbury said he’s noticed a greater awareness of the importance of testing as many kits as possible in his department and others.
“I think that maybe we have learned a little bit, in the profession, that it is better to test more of these kits than what we were doing previously,” he said.
This legislative session could see more changes to sexual assault kit testing procedure in Idaho. Last week, Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) introduced legislation that would stop hospitals from billing victims’ insurance for the cost of collecting evidence for the kit. “I’m really proud of the progress that the state of Idaho has made over the last few years on working toward being more victim-centered in these types of investigations,” Kingsbury said. “We still have a little work to do, but I think we’ve improved a lot over the past three years.”
WASHINGTON — Two Republican senators said Sunday that President Donald Trump would be wise to keep a public silence on an independent investigation into his 2016 campaign’s contacts with Russia in the wake of news reports that he sought to fire the special counsel.
The senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, also urged special counsel Robert Mueller to review whether Trump tried to fire him last June, an accusation the president has labeled “fake news.”
“Mueller is the best person to look at it,” said Graham, describing the allegation as grave if proven true. “I’m sure that there will be an investigation around whether or not President Trump did try to fire Mr. Mueller.”
Graham, co-sponsor of legislation that would protect Mueller from being fired without a legal basis, said he would be “glad to pass it tomorrow.” But he insisted that Mueller’s job appeared to be in no immediate danger, pointing to the political costs if Trump did remove him.
“It’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller,” he said.
Collins said it would certainly “not hurt” for Congress to approve added protections for Mueller given the recent media reports. But she didn’t offer a timeline.
“I think the president would be best served by never discussing the investigation, ever, whether in tweets, except in private conversations with his attorney,” she said.
The New York Times and other outlets reported that Trump backed off his attempt to fire Mueller last June only after White House lawyer Don McGahn refused to relay his directive to the Justice Department and threatened to quit if Trump pressed the issue.
According to the reports, Trump argued that Mueller could not be fair because of a dispute over golf club fees that he said Mueller owed at a Trump golf club in Sterling, Virginia. The president also believed Mueller had a conflict of interest because he worked for the same law firm that was representing Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.
On Sunday, lawmakers praised Mueller’s impartiality and expressed confidence that he would be able to conduct a full, wide-ranging investigation.
“I have complete confidence in Mr. Mueller,” Graham said. “I haven’t yet seen any evidence of collusion between President Trump and the Russians, but the investigation needs to go forward without political interference, and I’m sure it will.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer indicated that Democrats would try to add legislation to protect Mueller as part of an upcoming spending bill.
“The most important thing Congress can do right now is to ensure that special counsel Mueller’s investigation continues uninterrupted and unimpeded,” the New York senator said in a statement Sunday. “No one – whether it be Administration officials, Republicans or the president himself – should get in the way and undermine the investigation, and so Democrats will seek to add protections for Mueller in the ongoing budget negotiations.”
Defending the president, White House legislative director Marc Short said he didn’t know if Trump would sign legislation that would make it harder to fire Mueller. But Short stressed that, despite media reports, he was not aware of any conversation in which Trump expressed a desire to fire Mueller.
“I know that the president has been frustrated by this investigation,” Short said. “He feels like there’s been millions of dollars of taxpayers’ dollars spent and no evidence yet of collusion. ...The White House continues to cooperate in every manner providing any document the special counsel has asked for.”
Short added that Trump favors releasing a classified memo produced by the House Intelligence Committee that Republicans say alleges FBI misconduct. Trump’s position is in contrast to that of the Justice Department, which has warned that the memo’s public release could be “extraordinarily reckless” and has asked to review it.
Some lawmakers said the memo’s review instead should be done by impartial third parties “outside of the Republican-led Congress.”
“I want somebody who is without a political bias to come in and look at the allegations that I have seen,” Graham said.
Graham spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” Collins appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” and Short was on “Fox News Sunday” and CBS.
If you do one thing: The Jerome Public Library will have “make it” activities for students in sixth through 12th grades, after school until 4:30 p.m. at the library, 100 First Ave. E. Free.
TWIN FALLS — Another nonprofit is passing along money to go toward the downtown commons plaza at Main Avenue East and Hansen Street East.
On Monday, the Twin Falls City Council will host a check presentation from the Twin Falls Community Foundation to the Urban Renewal Agency. The foundation will present a check for more than $119,000, money it’s collected over several years.
“The majority of that came from donors,” foundation chairman Leonard Anderson said.
The foundation collected from 13 major donors and participated in selling bricks for sponsors of the plaza. The Rotary Club of Twin Falls previously donated $120,000 for the downtown commons plaza and had also sold sponsor bricks.
Together, “we’ve picked up about 10 percent of the total cost,” Anderson said.
The URA will spend up to $2.4 million for the plaza and adjacent street work, Executive Director Nathan Murray said. The plaza itself will cost about $2 million.
Twin Falls Community Foundation Treasurer John Knerler said about $84,000 of the money raised came from individual donors.
The City Council meeting begins at 5 p.m. Monday in Council Chambers at 203 Main Ave. E. Also at the meeting, the Council will consider:
WASHINGTON — Seeking to move past the shadow of the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump intends to use his first State of the Union address to cite economic progress under his watch while pushing for bipartisanship with Democrats on issues such as rebuilding roads and bridges.
The White House said Sunday that the president would point to a robust economy and low unemployment during his first year and the benefits of a tax overhaul during Tuesday’s address to Congress and the nation. Aides have said Trump, who stayed at the White House over the weekend as he prepared, is expected to set aside his more combative tone for one of compromise and bipartisanship.
“The president is going to talk about how America’s back,” said White House legislative director Marc Short. “The president is also going to make an appeal to Democrats ... to say we need to rebuild our country. And to make an appeal that to do infrastructure, we need to do it in a bipartisan way.”
Short said Trump would urge Democrats to support additional military spending in light of “dramatic threats on the global scene.”
White House officials have said the theme of the annual address will be “building a safe, strong and proud America” and that Trump was looking to showcase the accomplishments of his first year while setting the tone for the second.
As Trump looks ahead, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice and Trump campaign ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 election grinds on.
On the policy front, immigration is an immediate flashpoint for Trump and Congress. In the prime-time speech Tuesday, the president plans to promote his proposal for $25 billion for a wall along the Mexican border and for a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Trump’s plan includes billions for border security and significant changes to legal immigration long sought by hard-liners within the Republican Party. But some conservatives have warned that the deal would amount to “amnesty” for the young immigrants known as Dreamers, and many Democrats and immigration activists have outright rejected it.
“I think all of us realize that it’s going to take a compromise on this issue for us to get something done and to protect the Dreamer population, which is certainly a goal of mine,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “But I think the president is also right about border security, that we do need to beef up our border security.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called Trump’s proposal “a good starting point.”
“Let’s see if it’s something that we can agree on, something we need to adjust, something we can negotiate with,” he said.
Part of Trump’s goal in the speech is to set the course of the debate as Republicans look to retain their majority in Congress. He is expected to say the tax overhaul will unleash economic growth and he will point to companies that have provided their employees with $1,000 bonuses and other benefits.
Trump plans to outline a nearly $2 trillion plan that his administration contends will trigger $1 trillion or more in public and private spending on roads, bridges and other public works projects.
On trade, Trump will note his preference for one-on-one deals instead of multilateral agreements, building on his speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
And he will offer an update on the fight against terrorism and his view of international threats, including North Korea. A senior administration official providing a preview of the speech said Trump probably would avoid the taunts of “Little Rocket Man” for Kim Jong Un and “fire and fury” that he used before. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The address comes at a critical point for the president. He is battling poor approval ratings and is trying to move past the government shutdown that coincided with the anniversary of his inauguration. He’s also preparing for a grueling midterm election season that has tripped up other first-term presidents.
Trump was not expected to embark on an extensive sales pitch around the country after the speech. He plans to address a Republican congressional retreat in West Virginia on Thursday. Vice President Mike Pence will attend a tax overhaul event in West Virginia on Wednesday and speak to the GOP congressional retreat later in the day. Pence will hold events in the Pittsburgh area Friday.
Short spoke on “Fox News Sunday” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Collins spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Manchin spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”