Grant to help eliminate sexual assault backlog

Jefferson County seal

The Jefferson County Commissioners Court held its last meeting on the fourth floor of the historic county courthouse Dec. 14 – at least the last meeting at that venue for quite some time as repairs are made to the landmark structure.

Next week, Commissioners Court moves to the jury impaneling room on the first floor of the main courthouse.

The venue change was announced at the Commissioners Court meeting Monday. Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said while the meeting would not be at the same place for close to five months, future meetings would still be held at the same time.

“We’ll begin at our regular time, 1:30 p.m.,” Branick said, again reminding attendees to head to the first floor until repairs are complete. “Don’t come up here because we won’t be open. All commissioners court for 150 days will be down in that area.”

Built in 1931, the 13-story structure is one of the tallest courthouses in the state of Texas.

Sexual Assault Backlog Elimination Grant

Commissioners unanimously approved the acceptance and receipt of funds in the amount of $789,223 for the Regional Crime Lab provided through the 2016 New York County District Attorney’s Sexual Assault Backlog Elimination Grant.

According to the New York County District Attorney’s Office, the goal of the grant program is to promote strategies to permanently eliminate the national sexual assault kit (SAK) backlog. A sexual assault kit, or “rape kit,” is a medical kit used to collect evidence from the body and clothing of a victim of rape or sexual assault. SAKs typically contain tools such as swabs, tubes, glass slides, containers, and plastic bags used to collect and preserve fibers from clothing, hair, and bodily fluids, which can help identify DNA and other forensic evidence left by a perpetrator.

In a March news release, the White House estimated the number of kits backlogged in crime labs, meaning those that have been submitted for testing over 90 days ago, at “several hundred thousand.”

Representatives of the Jefferson County Crime Lab requested the authority to apply for the grant at Commissioners Court on June 1. The request and a resolution supporting the grant application were unanimously approved on that date.

Crime Lab Director Linda Johnson explained in June that the Jefferson County Crime Lab does not actually have a backlog of recent kits but needed the funds to test samples collected “a very long time ago.”