More than 200 alleged victims of sex crimes in Wayne County have seen their cases stall as the prosecutor’s office struggles with an exodus of attorneys.
More than 200 alleged victims of sex crimes in Wayne County have seen their cases stall as the prosecutors office struggles with an exodus of attorneys.
As of May, 283 sex crime warrants were pending in the prosecutor’s office for at least six months, with a large number sitting for more than a year. Until recently, at least four of the warrants dated back to 2020.
The warrants only apply to suspects not currently in custody.
I would ask the Wayne County prosecutors office to articulate a specific plan for how theyll address this backlog, said Johanna Kononen, the director of law and policy for the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Making survivors and victims wait in line for justice is an injustice.
While the prosecutor’s office says that the backlog is unacceptable, and has acknowledged recent missteps brought to light by 7 Action News, prosecutor Kym Worthy blames an underfunded and short-staffed office that has been losing prosecutors at a higher rate since the pandemic.
Our caseloads are heavier and were doing the best we can with what we have, Worthy said, while adding that her office is working to secure new funding to stem the backlog.
The backlogged warrants are separate from the issue of backlogged rape kits, which gained attention in 2009 when more than 11,000 untested kits were discovered in Detroit. They have all since been tested.
7 Action News spoke with multiple women who say they have been made to feel like a burden by the prosecutor’s office as they wait to learn whether their cases will be charged.
Im a survivor here, but I dont feel like Im surviving,” said one woman, who asked that her name be withheld. “And I dont feel like anybodys in my corner.”
She says she was the victim of a rape nearly a year ago.
I had been at a party with my family, a bonfire, and I was driven home and raped by my cousin.
The next day she would go to police, who performed a rape kit. The first came back inconclusive, she says, but the second was a match for the man she accused.
In December, police forwarded a warrant request to the Wayne County prosecutors office.
I thought I was taking this big step and going to finally share my story of what happened, she said, and get justice or have somebody take it seriously and do something about it.
But she says she did not hear from the prosecutors office for months after her warrant request was forwarded by police. When she called the offices main line and spoke to a receptionist, she said she was made to feel like a burden.
I was an inconvenience entirely, she said. They didnt want to talk to me, they said I wasnt following protocol. That theyll reach out when theyre ready. Basically, not to bother them.
The warrant would sit for nearly five months before an assistant prosecutor even reviewed it, according to a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office. It was finally approved in May.
Johanna Kononen, the legal director for the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, called the 283 backlogged warrants “a staggering number.”
They reported their assault to law enforcement. Many of them probably underwent forensic exams. Law enforcement forwarded their warrants, and now theyre left to wait,” Kononen said.
More than a year ago, a young woman who spoke to 7 Action News says she was sexually assaulted at a bar in Dearborn. She also asked that her identity not be shared.
He came up behind me, she said, (and) ended up putting his hands down my pants and then up my shirt.
She went to police two days later. By March of 2022, law enforcement had forwarded a warrant request to the Wayne County prosecutor for a charging decision.
It is still pending today.
Theres nothing more to do with the case right now, the alleged victim said. Were just literally waiting on the prosecutors office.
On Wednesday, as a result of questions by 7 Action News about the languishing warrant, Worthys office said they learned that learned it had been assigned to the wrong office.
There was a delay in this case because it went to the wrong unit,” said spokeswoman Maria Miller. “It was discovered today and assigned to a prosecutor in the Sexual Assault Team to review. She will attempt to contact the victim today to arrange an interview.
Earlier this month, prosecutor Kym Worthy spoke with 7 Action News.
How does a backup of approximately 280 cases happen? asked Channel 7s Ross Jones.
(The special victims unit) is a very, very busy unit, Worthy said, adding later: These are cases where it doesnt take five minutes to issue these charges.
Everyone agrees that sexual assault cases are often complicated, and just because a police department presents a warrant to a prosecutor doesnt mean the case wont require more investigation.
But the wait that victims are enduring in Wayne County is not the norm elsewhere.
During the same period that Wayne reported 283 backlogged warrants, Macomb County reported just 11 have lingered for 6 months or more.
In Oakland County, there were only four.
I dont have time to worry about whats going on in other counties, Worthy said in response to the disparity. We are the largest county in the state, we do over 65% of the criminal cases in the entire state.
Should where your crime happened determine how long you have to wait for justice? asked Jones.
Of course not, Worthy said. But you have to be realistic as well.
For more than 15 years, Worthy has been vocal about understaffing in her office. Today, Wayne County is 30 prosecutors short, with lawyers constantly leaving for positions elsewhere that pay better and handle fewer cases.
Our caseloads are heavier and were doing the best we can with what we have, Worthy said.
She said she did not know the circumstances surrounding the four pending sex crime warrants that dated back to 2020 and why they would be lingering this long.
After speaking with 7 Action News, a spokesperson for Worthys office said that her office had authorized charges in two of the cases, while two others had charges denied.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.