CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley said his office has uncovered dozens of sexual assault cases in the office's Juvenile Division that sat dormant on the desks of assistant prosecutors for months and, in some cases, years.
Three prosecutors were forced to resign last week after a team of lawyers found more than 70 rape and sexual assault cases dating back to 2014. The prosecutors failed the track the cases, and no charges were filed, O'Malley said.
Some cases included victims as young as 3 years old, suspects who had already confessed their crimes and suspects who later went on to commit more crimes, O'Malley and assistant prosecutors Joanna Whinery, Jennifer Driscoll and Gregory Mussman said Monday in an interview.
Those prosecutors also uncovered more than 1,900 additional cases that assistant prosecutors in the juvenile division may have incorrectly categorized as "inactive" in the office's computer system since 2012. O'Malley, who took office just over a month ago, is now examining new ways to track the cases that get handled in the juvenile division.
"It's horrific," O'Malley said.
The prosecutors said their review of the cases could lead to hundreds of new charges being filed in the coming months.
O'Malley said he does not believe his predecessor, former Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, knew about the cases.
"This has nothing to do with the previous administration, other than the fact that you have a Juvenile Chief who apparently failed in his duties as well as somebody who was in charge of that intake unit in failed in their duties," O'Malley said.
McGinty's chief of the juvenile division was Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Duane Deskins.
Last month, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson appointed Deskins to a newly created position in his cabinet, Chief of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunity for Youth and Young Adults.
Deskins told cleveland.com Monday night that he couldn't respond to the way the cases were handled without the details of each case, but said he was not aware of any delays or mishandling of cases while he headed the juvenile division.
He pointed out that there were two levels of supervisors underneath him who would have directly dealt with cases on a daily basis, but stood by the work the office did.
"We did an aggressive job," he said.
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center reached out to prosecutors during O'Malley's first week in office for updates on several sexual assault cases involving juveniles.
A victim advocate at the rape crisis center also asked Whinery for an update on approximately 15 cases. Victims had become concerned that their cases had "fallen through the cracks," Whinery said.
When Whinery, Driscoll and Mussman started looking into the cases, they found the assistant prosecutors never fully reviewed them for charges, the lawyers said.
They launched a deeper probe and uncovered more uncharged cases in the juvenile division.
Then on Jan. 26, police in University Heights asked about the October sexual assault of a high school student at Cleveland Heights High School.
An assistant juvenile prosecutor took the case shortly after the crime was reported, but no charges were filed, Mussman said. Once Mussman looked at the case file, his office found probable cause to file charges against four teenagers and took out arrest warrants later that day.
On prosecutors' desks, they found years-old police reports that had never been entered into office database that tracks cases. Other cases, Mussman said, were entered into the database but sat for 18 months with no follow-up.
The prosecutors eventually uncovered 76 cases, including 37 reported rapes and 32 reports of gross-sexual imposition, that were never fully reviewed for charges.
"Police reports and files had been submitted to the office, but there was no charging being done," O'Malley said.
The revelation shocked O'Malley's team. O'Malley was a former assistant prosecutor under Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason, whose 10-year tenure included the discovery of thousands of rape kits that had sat untested in Cleveland's police department.
The revelation led to widespread reforms. McGinty, created a special task force to use DNA evidence to test the kits and clear the backlog. It led to thousands of convictions and is considered a national model.
But O'Malley cautioned that the 76 sexual assault cases may be just a fraction of the cases that were delayed or brushed off.
The office uses computer software that will send periodic alerts to remind assistant prosecutors if their cases are still active. The software allows prosecutors to change each case from "active" to "inactive," meaning the alerts would stop popping up, O'Malley said.
From 2007 to 2012, there were 13 cases that were switched from active to inactive status, and they were all duplicates of cases that had already been created, O'Malley's office said.
But Driscoll and Mussman found that since 2012, assistant prosecutors in the juvenile division switched more than 1,900 cases to "inactive" in the software.
Driscoll started looking into the cases that had been moved to "inactive" status, and found that, while many were duplicate files, others involved rape, aggravated robbery and felonious assault reports that should have been fully investigated. Some of the reasons prosecutors gave for moving the cases to inactive included that the victim or the victim's parents didn't answer a phone call, Driscoll said.
"It pretty much amounted to a do-nothing list," O'Malley said.
The office is conducting a full audit to determine how many of the 1,900 cases were incorrectly labeled as inactive. Driscoll is working backwards and has identified 20 cases that were incorrectly switched to "inactive" status dating back to May.
O'Malley said he assumes that review will lead to hundreds of new charges being filed in the coming months.
O'Malley last week asked three assistant prosecutors who handled the bulk of the delayed cases to resign.
Laura Hoffman, Linda Herman and Robin Belcher resigned Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, respectively, after each had a disciplinary hearing in O'Malley's office.
O'Malley disciplined four more lawyers, handing out a combination of suspensions, demotions and reassignments, according to disciplinary records.
Records cite incompetency, inefficiency and neglect of duty as reasons for the reprimands.
O'Malley said his office is still investigating the scope of the problem and he could discipline more employees in the future. But he pledged that no case will ever fall through the cracks under his tenure in office.
"We will never have a situation where we're talking about any case and any victim where this office failed them," O'Malley said.
O'Malley has installed Mussman as the head of the juvenile division, and assigned veteran prosecutor Maggie Kane to the juvenile division to help with the influx of cases.
The office is also going to work with the juvenile court to install a better tracking system for every case that gets brought to their office, whether it's initiated by a police report or a case kicked to them through municipal court.
The office has eliminated the "inactive list," Driscoll said. Cases will remain active until supervisors in the juvenile division decide to either file charges or completely close the case.
"If it takes time, it takes time," she said. "We want to do the right thing."
'Not about personalities'
O'Malley was in the running to get the job that Deskins ultimately got when McGinty took office in 2012. McGinty instead assigned O'Malley to supervise the unit that prosecutes crimes in the southwest side of Cleveland and the surrounding suburbs.
O'Malley said his office's decision to go public with revelations had nothing to do with making McGinty or Deskins look bad.
"This isn't about personalities. This is about results," O'Malley said. "And the results for the public have been a failure in this particular case."
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