Cuyahoga County

Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force


The DNA Cold Case Task Force combines law enforcement expertise and resources to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits in Cuyahoga County and to vigorously prosecute the predators who have terrorized thousands of victims over the past several decades.

History of the Task Force

Click above to view the performance dashboard for cold case sexual assault investigations and prosecutions in Cuyahoga County.

Listen online to the November 6, 2014 segment of The Diane Rehm show featuring Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Rick Bell, along with other guests, discussing rape kit testing backlogs and how to address this issue.

“Never before have so many dangerous rapists been identified and arrested in such a short time. Untested rape kits have been a gold mine for law enforcement.”

 – Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty.

In May 2011, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine invited law enforcement agencies across the state to submit for testing any sexual assault kits, regardless of age, that had been collected but never tested for DNA. Numerous law enforcement agencies across Ohio responded, with the Cleveland Police Department submitting the most kits. Cleveland has committed to testing rape kits dating back to the early 1990s which were preserved in storage and by the mid-2014, the city’s entire inventory of backlogged rape kits – roughly 4,300 of them – had been submitted for testing. Several hundred additional kits have been sent to the state lab from suburban police departments.

As test results began to trickle in from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) lab, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office in 2013 committed to investigate and, whenever possible, pursue criminal charges against newly identified perpetrators. To that end, Prosecutor McGinty formed a partnership with BCI, the Cleveland Police Department (CPD) and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department to create what is now known as the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force.

The Task Force pairs CPD sex crimes unit detectives, Sheriff’s Department Officers, and BCI Agents with investigators from the Prosecutor’s Office to locate victims and witnesses as well as evidence in these old cases. These law enforcement partners then collaborate with a team of specially focused SAK prosecutors to prepare cases for Grand Jury presentation and prosecution.

Prosecutor McGinty has also helped the Cleveland and East Cleveland police departments by securing funding for special employees to catalog and package sexual assault kits and other evidence for delivery to BCI for testing.

DNA from the kits stored in Cleveland, East Cleveland and other Cuyahoga County communities has yielded matches to both known and unknown offenders already in the Combined DNA Indexing System (CODIS) as well as DNA collected from other sexual assaults. We have been able to track offenders terrorizing our communities by comparing these matches, and in some cases match unknown suspects to known persons. By tracking the serial offenders, we can discern patterns that will aid investigators, prosecutions – and efforts at deterrence.

By the fall of 2014, more than 200 individuals had been indicted for rapes committed as far back as 1993. The conviction rate on these cases exceeds 90 percent.

Rapists are often repeat, violent offenders. Taking these walking crime sprees off our streets will make our communities instantly safer, while prosecuting these offenders brings justice to victims who have waited years for someone to act on their behalf.

“Dollar for dollar this will be the most productive use of time and money by a law enforcement task force ever in Cuyahoga County,” Prosecutor McGinty said in May of 2014, when the Task Force indicted its 100th defendant. “We now realize that the DNA in these old rape kits is a ticket to prison for a trainload of violent rapists. These Cold Case kits are a virtual gold mine. We have an unprecedented opportunity to take a large percentage of this county’s most dangerous criminals off the street all at the same time. We have hit the mother lode – and we intend to mine the hell out of it.

"By putting them in prison, these habitual offenders will not be able to rape, burglarize or kill others – which our data proves they otherwise would. This Task Force will have a surprisingly significant impact on the safety of the community and on public confidence as we remove hundreds of one-man crime waves from the streets."

Elias Acevedo represents perhaps the most dramatic example of this. The testing of a rape kit from 1993 led to Acevedo’s arrest in the summer of 2013. Additional evidence gathered by task force investigators from the BCI piqued the interest of agents and officers on the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force who had begun to re-examine the 1995 disappearance of 18-year-old Christina Adkins of Cleveland.

They ultimately got Acevedo to confess to killing not only Adkins, but also Pamela Pemberton, who was murdered in 1994 not far from the site of his 1993 rape. Acevedo led investigators to a manhole where they found Adkins’ remains. In addition, he confessed to a series of violent rapes and in December of 2013 pled guilty to a 297-count indictment.

Acevedo was given two life sentences for the murders plus an additional 405 years in prison for the rapes and other crimes.

More Information

 

A Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com series by reporters Leila Atassi and Rachel Dissell in August 2013 took an in-depth look at issues surrounding Cuyahoga County’s backlogged rape kits and at the push by the DNA Cold Case Task Force to help victims and prosecute perpetrators.