The Akron Beacon Journal — working with Akron police and local groups helping sex assault survivors — is hosting a free showing of "I Am Evidence," a 2017 documentary about the backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in Cleveland, Detroit and across the country.
Akron for decades was part of this problem and is now working not only to make amends, but to change how it handles sexual assault cases.
The free event will take place at 6 p.m. June 25 at Akron-Summit County Public Library downtown. After the film, detectives from the Akron Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (ASAKI) and their partners from the Victim Assistance Program of Summit County, the Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties and the Summit County Prosecutor's Office will answer questions and provide more information.
Akron police, like their counterparts in cities and towns across the U.S., let rape kits go untested.
Sometimes investigators thought DNA would be useless since the men accused had admitted they had sex, but said it was consensual. Investigators never considered DNA could link those men to similar sex assault reports by other women, too.
Other times, investigators didn’t test the kits because they doubted the victims — mostly women — were telling the truth.
In recent years, Akron police submitted 1,822 untested rape kits to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification for DNA testing. In April, police launched a new three-detective unit dedicated to re-investigating more than 1,000 sexual assault cases.
ASAKI made its first case last month against a 43-year-old Akron man they say raped four women since 2011. Prentice L. Smith of Anderson Avenue has since been indicted by a Summit County grand jury on rape and kidnapping charges and has pleaded not guilty.
Detectives say Smith most recently raped a woman on Christmas Day last year. They have not said what led them to him, but once they had Smith’s DNA, they discovered it matched three other unsolved rape cases.
Without the DNA from those rape kits, it appears unlikely police would have made the connection to the old cases because, until now, Smith’s only other felony charges in Summit County involved failing to pay child support.
“I Am Evidence” — which was co-produced for HBO by actress Mariska Hargitay, who for decades has played Detective Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” — follows the cases of four women who were raped and how poorly the real-world justice system treated them.
Hargitay appears in the 90-minute film, along with four rape survivors, prosecutors and others like Plain Dealer reporter Rachel Dissell, who helped uncover 4,000 untested rape kits in Cleveland and the reckoning that followed.
Former Cuyahoga County judge and prosecutor Tim McGinty says in the documentary that “rape kits are the best bargain in the history of law enforcement."
"Four hundred dollars a rape kit, and one in four results in an indictment,” he said. “One in four of the four is a serial rapist. I've never seen an opportunity like this in law enforcement."
That matches what happened in Akron when ASAKI made its first case in April — one recently tested rape kit matched three old ones.
Akron police are working through a storage box of files for serial rapists who attacked three or more women between 1993 and 2012.
In those cases, detectives have the DNA, but are now re-investigating, reaching out to victims and hoping to put names to the scientific evidence so they can finally close the cases and pull predators off the streets.
The Beacon Journal is screening the film in the auditorium of the downtown library, which is on a bus line and has an attached parking deck on South High Street. Visitors who have their parking validated with security in the lobby will pay about $1, depending how early they arrive.
Admission to the film is free. No reservations are required.
Detectives, social workers and a prosecutor will be on hand to answer questions about how Akron police investigate sex crimes — both old and new — and what services are available to help survivors and their families, whether a sexual assault happened last week, or 20 years ago.
Amanda Garrett can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettabj.