Suit: Loss of blood sample led to dismissal of sex crime - Albuquerque Journal

Suit: Loss of blood sample led to dismissal of sex crime

The 2nd Judicial District Court Courthouse in Downtown Albuquerque. (Source: New Mexico Courts)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

In the five years it took to process a rape kit, key evidence was lost that could have led to the conviction of an Albuquerque man on sex crime charges, a lawsuit alleges.

The Albuquerque Police Department lost a blood sample that could have shown that the 18-year-old victim was drugged before she was raped in 2015, the suit said.

The woman is suing the city of Albuquerque and an APD detective who investigated the case, alleging that APD treats “violent rapes against women as lower-priority cases than other violent crimes,” it said.

“There’s a reason that most women don’t report rape, and part of that reason is because of the lack of care we take in prosecuting these cases,” said Laura Schauer Ives, an Albuquerque attorney who filed the suit on behalf of the unidentified victim.

“When women come forward and disclose something like this, they do so on the hope that people will be held accountable and that it won’t happen to anybody else in the future,” Schauer Ives said.

Rape examinations are intrusive and traumatic, “and to have all that treated like it doesn’t matter much is cruel,” she said.

The 2nd Judicial District Court lawsuit was filed Feb. 1 and alleges that the woman was raped by a former Sunday school teacher she had met years earlier and who reached out to her in February 2015.

Shortly before the rape, the attacker gave the high school senior vodka that contained a sedative so powerful that she could barely walk or speak and had to be hospitalized for vomiting and seizures, the suit said.

The woman underwent an extensive rape examination the following day and the evidence joined thousands of untested rape kits in New Mexico.

In 2016, New Mexico had the nation’s highest per capita backlog of untested rape kits, the suit said. APD’s forensic lab accounted for 72% of the state’s 5,000 untested kits.

The woman also permitted a nurse to draw her blood to determine whether she had been drugged, the suit said.

Five years later, she learned that the state had finally tested her rape kit.

Jonathan Abrell, 37, was indicted in January 2020 on three counts of criminal sexual penetration and one count of giving alcohol to a minor, according to 2nd Judicial District Court records.

Abrell’s attorney, Todd Hotchkiss, said his client “denied then and denies now the allegations in the complaint that he drugged and raped” the woman.

At Abrell’s arraignment in February 2020, the woman learned that APD had lost her blood sample.

Without the sample, prosecutors “determined that the rape would be too difficult to prove, because Abrell would likely claim that (the woman) consented to having sex with him,” the suit said.

In April 2020, Abrell reached a plea agreement in which the sex crimes against him were dismissed, the agreement shows.

Abrell admitted to giving alcohol to a minor and was sentenced to 18 months of unsupervised probation. A judge ordered a dismissal of charges against him on Nov. 18.

The suit alleges that APD failed to require the testing of rape kits from December 2010 to November 2019. The delay led to the loss of the blood sample.

“The loss or destruction of the sample was due in part to APD’s policies regarding rape evidence kits that allowed for improper tracking of the evidence” while the kits remained in storage for years, the suit alleges.

The woman was personally injured as a result, it said. The suit also alleges that APD’s failure to properly investigate rapes amounts to sex discrimination in violation of her constitutional rights. It seeks unspecified damages.

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