Chief says rape victims well-treated

April 12, 1995|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey defended his department's treatment of rape victims yesterday in his first public comments since a national television news show aired a highly critical segment last week.

Saying that he and his officers had been "betrayed and portrayed in the worst possible light," Chief Robey said that last Wednesday's ABC news show "PrimeTime Live" incorrectly alleged that Howard County police were insensitive to sexual assault victims and improperly had investigated a 1992 rape.

"We care," he said. "We want victims of sexual assault to know we care. We treat every victim of a crime with as much compassion as we can. We think we have a track record to show that."

Although the show has sparked about a dozen angry phone calls to the department and the county executive's office, both Executive Charles I. Ecker and the county Sexual Assault Center firmly supported the chief this week.

The television report focused on the use of polygraph tests on rape victims by police departments, specifically looking at a 1992 Howard County case first reported by The Sun.

In the case, a 19-year-old woman told police she had been abducted by a man from her western Howard County home at gunpoint and driven to the man's house where she was raped.

Police later asked the woman to take a polygraph test, from which they concluded that she was deceiving them or withholding information.

But several months later another woman was abducted and LTC raped in nearly an identical manner.

A Silver Spring computer analyst was arrested soon after the second rape, and he confessed to both crimes.

On "PrimeTime Live," it was alleged that Howard police stopped investigating the case after the woman's polygraph test and ignored fingerprint evidence that might have allowed capture of the suspect before the second rape.

Chief Robey insisted yesterday that the police department had continued to investigate the case as best it could until therapist was arrested, even after the polygraph test.

"I can't apologize to the victim for doing our job," he said, echoing similar comments he made on the show. "Am I sorry? Absolutely . . . . But we did not do anything wrong.

"I regret that we had to offer her the polygraph exam, but, given the facts at the time, I stand by the actions taken."

Bartley III, the department's forensics supervisor and a former FBI fingerprint specialist, denied that his unit had ignored fingerprint evidence.

Mr. Bartley said a partial print found in the woman's house was of poor quality and did not turn out to match those of the man arrested.

The show also implied Howard police routinely polygraph rape victims and that, if a victim failed some questions on a polygraph test, Chief Robey dismissed the claim of having been raped as false.

But Lt. J. Terry Schlossnagle, commander of criminal investigations division, said that since 1991, only four sexual assault victims have been subjected to polygraph tests by Howard police, all voluntarily and all in 1992. Three subsequently admitted they had made false reports, he said.

"Just because the examiner found deception does not mean he said she was not raped," Lieutenant Schlossnagle said of the 19-year-old sexual assault victim from western Howard County. "No one ever said she wasn't raped. The examiner wanted to clear up the area where deception was found, but that was when she terminated the examination. The investigation continued after that, and eventually an arrest was made."

Although Howard police have not examined a rape victim by polygraph test since since 1992, the department would do so if investigators felt it was warranted, Chief Robey said.

Detectives have asked a few victims of other crimes to submit to voluntary polygraph exams, the chief said.

In 1994, he outlined a new policy that sets guidelines for the approved use of polygraph tests.

However, that policy would not have ruled out using the test in the 1992 case.

Mr. Ecker, who appointed Chief Robey in 1991, said yesterday he continues to strongly support the chief as well as the police department's occasional use of polygraph exams of crime victims.

A state bill to ban the use of such tests in sexual assault cases has been defeated the last two years in the General Assembly.

The perception left by the ABC show last week prompted at least one County Council member to urge Chief Robey to clarify the way the department treats rape victims.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the comments Chief Robey made on the program.

"But I don't think he intended the statements as the way they came across," Dr. Gray said.

Cheryl DePetro, executive director of the nonprofit Sexual Assault Center, which receives county funds, said she opposes the use of polygraph tests on sexual assault victims.

Ms. DePetro said she is concerned by the perception left by Chief Robey on the show, but believes the department's stance toward rape victims was distorted in the ABC report.

"The police department in our county is very responsible and caring, and our relationship is excellent," she said. "What happened [in 1992] tainted Howard County's image, and it shouldn't have happened, but it isn't representative of the Howard County Police Department that I have known since I began at the center a year ago."

Ms. DePetro said that since Chief Robey was interviewed in September by "PrimeTime Live," the police department has agreed to notify her center if they intend to ask a rape victim to take a polygraph exam.

The center then would make a counselor available to the rape victim after the polygraph test, she said.

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