EXPLAINER: What we know about the investigation into a Cincinnati police officer over rape tests

The officer is accused of ‘failing to do his job’ while investigating cases of sexual assault.
Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco on Thursday answered important questions about how rape evidence is processed in the county, providing context to the investigation of a Cincinnati Police officer accused of failing to pursue rape investigations.

The specific allegations against CPD Officer Christopher Schroder remain unclear. Police Chief Eliot Isaac confirmed on Wednesday a department investigation into the officer for “failing to do his job as an investigator.”

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has said the allegations surround Schroder’s inaction on DNA results from rape tests.

The prosecutor’s office and the police department are cooperating on the investigation.

So far no charges have been filed. Schroder’s attorney says a legally binding plea deal is in place on one misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty, but Deters contests that notion.

The prosecutor has spoken in terms both vague and sweeping about the scope of the alleged wrongdoing, in part by necessity, as the investigation is open-ended.

But Sammarco did her best to narrow it down speaking to FOX19 NOW on Thursday afternoon.

In doing so, Sammarco defended the Hamilton County Crime Lab, which she oversees, while describing “frustration” at the lack of feedback from the law enforcement agencies it serves.

“I want to assure everybody in our community that our office and our staff do their absolute best to try to process the evidence as quickly as possible, with integrity and with great empathy for the victims of these crimes,” she said.

Who processes rape evidence for Cincinnati police?

When DNA evidence left during a rape is collected, whether from the victim or something left at the scene, CPD sends it to one of two agencies, according to Sammarco.

The Hamilton County Crime Lab processes evidence for CPD as well as other local jurisdictions, state agencies and federal agencies.

Sammarco says CPD also has the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations do “some of their cases as well.”

What happens when the Crime Lab gets a match?

Sammarco calls a DNA match a “CODIS hit.”

CODIS stands for Combined DNA Index System. It links unknown DNA left during a crime to offenders who are legally required to provide samples for the database, according to the FBI.

Sammarco explains a CODIS hit doesn’t necessarily turn up a suspect. The crime lab might find DNA in one test that matches DNA from a previous test in an unsolved case.

“We may still not have a name,” she said. “But at least we can then say, since there’s a match, to look at these other cases, to look at the details, to see if there’s any commonality.”

Then the lab gets its results to the right place.

“Whenever we get a [hit,] we will notify that jurisdiction or the police agency that provided us with that evidence, notify them of the match and provide all the information that we get from the system so they can pursue whatever suspect they can based on the information we relay,” Sammarco said.

What is Schroder’s involvement?

Schroder, 52, was assigned to the Personal Crimes Unit in CPD’s Criminal Investigation Section in July 2007.

Sammarco says Schroder’s name appears in 96 entries in the coroner’s office database, meaning he was somehow involved in at least the initial stages of rape investigations that yielded 96 DNA tests.

Some of those cases involved male victims, according to Sammarco.

Of those 96 tests, the crime lab netted four CODIS hits, and those results were given to Schroder.

The victims’ ages ranged from 15-31, Sammarco said.

What is Schroder accused of specifically?

Schroder’s attorney, Mike Allen, told FOX19 NOW on Wednesday the allegations stem from three cases. That could mean Schroder did follow up on one of the four CODIS hits. It could also mean two of the hits arose from the same case.

It’s possible more than three rape cases could be impacted. A CODIS hit might be the missing link in a series of crimes, leading to the conviction of a serial rapist.

Deters made that very point on Wednesday, though it remains purely hypothetical.

Sammarco could not say whether those four hits were given to other officers or only to Schroder. Nor could she comment on the status of the cases, leading to three possible outcomes:

  • Some or all the cases were solved despite Schroder’s alleged inaction;
  • Some or all of the cases remain unsolved, and Schroder’s alleged inaction is directly to blame; or
  • Some or all of the cases remain unsolved, and the CODIS hits wouldn’t have helped even if Schroder had acted on them, making his alleged inaction metaphysically moot.

Why doesn’t the Crime Lab know the status of the cases?

Sammarco says the onus is on the law enforcement agency to report back what happens after the Crime Lab relays a CODIS hit.

That might include an arrest, a conviction or even a dead-end.

But according to Sammarco, that desired feedback sometimes doesn’t come. And that’s frustrating, she says.

“You know, our people in the Crime Lab work really, really hard to maintain the integrity of evidence and to work as efficiently as possible to provide answers to law enforcement so that we can take dangerous criminals off the streets and keep our community safe,” she said. “That’s the goal of everyone in the office. So when they work really hard and they get a positive CODIS hit, they get that information to law enforcement agencies as quickly as possible, so they can keep everyone safe.”

Sammarco continued: “It’s frustrating to work really hard getting some answers, and for us not to get any follow-up... And I know it takes time to find suspects and follow up and see where they are and try to apprehend them, but not getting a whole lot of information back is frustrating to us.”

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