A former Howard University student is appealing a court decision that protects the District from a negligence lawsuit, stemming from a 2007 case where the student allegedly attempted to get a rape kit at several D.C. hospitals – including GW Hospital – but was prevented by the Metropolitan Police Department.
The plaintiff originally filed the negligence and medical malpractice suit against the District, GW Hospital, GW, Howard University Hospital and several doctors in August 2007.
She stated in court documents that she was given a date-rape drug at an off-campus party near Howard, but was denied a rape kit at both hospitals because doctors said she was intoxicated. Rape kits include materials to collect and store bodily fluids, debris and other evidence after a possible sexual assault, and can be used to identify or prosecute the perpetrator.
The three negligence claims filed against the city include negligent hiring, training and supervision of Metropolitan Police Department officers, interference in the plaintiff’s medical treatment and failure to investigate her alleged sexual assault, according to court documents.
A U.S. district judge dismissed the charges against the District in August, granting a summary judgement – a ruling without a trial that takes place when a judge determines that none of the material facts are in dispute.
At the time of the alleged incident, police practice was for MPD officers to interview victims and determine whether or not a hospital should administer a rape kit, which in this case officers deemed unnecessary.
“A sexual assault kit is for police to recover evidence,” Sergeant Ronald Reid of the MPD Sex Assault Unit told The Hatchet in 2007. “So if we don’t have reason to believe a crime happened we wouldn’t administer a rape kit.”
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Bruce Spiva, said this procedure is no longer part of MPD policy, and said rape kits are now administered to all victims of sexual assault who request an examination.
In a memorandum opinion, Judge Richard Leon said MPD officers were performing their official duties by “responding to reports of alleged crime and deciding whether to open an investigation.”
Though officers might have negligently responded to the plaintiff’s situation by determining her case was not sexual assault, and preventing her access to a rape kit, they were performing a police duty, and the District is therefore not liable, according to the memorandum.
Spiva said his client – whose name is being withheld due to a Hatchet policy of not naming individuals who report sexual assault- is appealing the decision to remove D.C. from the case, saying the public duty doctrine – which protects police officers who are performing their duties according to MPD policy – should not apply. Spiva said in this case, the public duty doctrine does not apply because police were not performing duties while a crime was taking place, but were preventing the plaintiff from receiving treatment afterwards.
“It wasn’t that they had failed to stop the sexual assault and the drugging to happen in the first place,” Spiva said. “It was their reaction afterwards and the way they interfered with the hospitals and prevented them from doing the sexual assault examination.”
The court has not yet reached a decision on the case in terms of the other defendants, including the University and GW Hospital. Efforts to set a trial date have been stalled, pending the appeal to bring the District back into the case.
Spiva said his client will pursue a trial date regardless of the results of the appeal in order to hold the other defendants liable and seek damages for the pain his client endured.
“She went through almost a 24-hour odyssey and pain trying to get someone to give her an exam,” Spiva said.