EDFP

Nearly every job includes duties that are relatively unpleasant. Most of us put off those tasks until they pile up, and start tackling them only when we need to.

Not District Attorney Tyler Ingram.

His office is taking on a backlog of sexual assault and child sex cases – some of them going back several years. In the past month at least half a dozen sex cases have been filed by the prosecutor’s office.

“Quite a few of those sexual assault cases charged recently were prior to my becoming DA,” Ingram told the Free Press.

Newer cases appear to be getting more prompt attention as well. Ingram was appointed District Attorney in October, and he recently discussed his plan to make sexual assault cases a priority for prosecution.

“These are cases I take seriously,” said Ingram. “I place greater emphasis on these cases, along with homicide, of course.”

That’s good news for Elko, where forcible rape was one of the few crime categories showing an increase in 2016. Such cases increased 20 percent last year, with 36 incidents reported in the city.

Thirty-six is an alarming figure, and it doesn’t include Spring Creek or other parts of the county in 2016, for which we have yet to see data from the sheriff’s office. Elko’s rate is more than four times the national average listed on FBI websites, although comparisons may be inaccurate because the method of tracking such cases is in the process of being changed in jurisdictions throughout the country.

Elko Police Chief Ben Reed said the definition of forcible rape includes various types of sexual assaults, including date rape and unfounded incidents. Sorting out the cases for prosecution must be an uncomfortable challenge, and it’s good to know that our new district attorney is up to the task.

Sexual assaults are often a matter of “he said, she said” testimony arguing over the consensual nature of the encounter.

In January, a 27-year-old Elko man was acquitted of raping a 16-year-old girl, after his defense attorney argued it was “a case of cheating.”

Prosecutions become even more critical and difficult when younger victims are involved. Since these crimes occur in the most intimate settings, the youth will likely be required to testify in open court about what happened – adding another layer of trauma to their suffering.

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In cases of forcible rape, DNA evidence can be critical. Unfortunately, Nevada is among the many states that have trouble keeping up with the workload. Elko’s evidence is handled by the Washoe Crime Lab, which serves the entire northern part of the state.

Despite all of the obstacles, our new district attorney is pursuing these cases vigorously. In the past month a Carlin man has been charged with sexual assault on a 16-year-old girl in March 2016, an Elko man has been charged with lewdness and sexual seduction of a 13-year-old girl in 2012, a Spring Creek man has been charged with sexual assault on a girl under the age of 16 in 2011, an Elko man has been charged with raping an acquaintance in 2015, an Elko man was charged with having sexual contact with a 13-year-old boy after allegations came to light in 2015, and a Spring Creek man has been charged with multiple counts of lewdness involving a 14- to 16-year-old girl.

Detectives and attorneys need special training to handle these cases. They also coordinate with the Great Basin Children’s Advocacy Center to see that victims receive the medical care and counseling they need during and after the investigation.

Attorneys in the Elko County DA’s office handle 500-600 cases, according to Ingram, so it matters greatly to victims how their cases are prioritized n order to avoid delays.

We believe county commissioners should keep this office fully staffed — even in times of budget crunches — in order to build upon the good work our law enforcement agencies are doing to keep crime of all kinds in check.

“Overall, everyone in this community has the responsibility to look out for our children,” Ingram said. “If someone thinks something is out of the ordinary or if a child discloses abuse, they have the responsibility to reach out to law enforcement.”

We don’t know how many more sex crime cases will be making headlines in the coming weeks, but we are confident that our district attorney will address them promptly and that future cases will not leave children or older victims waiting years for the pursuit of justice.

Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are Travis Quast, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak McKown.

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