ELKO – A wave of arrests the last few weeks in sexual assault cases going back as much as six years are the result of a new policy established in the District Attorney’s office.
District Attorney Tyler Ingram recently discussed how his office is working to ensure a backlog does not occur again.
Since becoming DA in October following the death of Mark Torvinen last summer, Ingram began sorting through an estimated 3,400 cases with 340 pending, according to a previous interview.
Some of those included sexual abuse of adults and children, along with child physical abuse.
“Quite a few of those sexual assault cases charged recently were prior to my becoming DA,” said Ingram.
In reviewing the backlog Ingram said at least three reasons became evident, including the wait for supplemental information in an investigation and waiting for DNA evidence to come back from the crime lab in Washoe County.
“Washoe County crime lab does an amazing job for us” as busy as they are, said Ingram.
According to their website, the Washoe County’s forensic science division serves 13 of the 17 counties in Nevada and 80 agencies. Elko is the third busiest county when it comes to criminal cases, Ingram said.
The third reason for the delays came down to the fact that someone made a mistake and a case sat too long, said Ingram, a factor that he felt was unacceptable for such sensitive cases.
“These are cases I take seriously,” said Ingram. “I place greater emphasis on these cases, along with homicide, of course.”
To recognize the importance of the case to the victim, Ingram recently implemented a policy that begins with placing a red sticker on a file when it is handed to an attorney. A file with this sticker means that the case involves child sexual abuse, physical abuse or adult sexual abuse and must be charged immediately.
“If not, I am notified,” said Ingram.
“These three types of cases are the most complicated we handle for a number of reasons,” he explained.
Ingram said he understands that much is riding on how these cases are prosecuted, and that the public wants to see justice done quickly, which means that the prosecutors are “making sure the cases are investigated to the best of our ability.”
Noting the number of cases his prosecutors handle – estimated at anywhere from 500-600 per attorney – Ingram knows that they have a heavy workload, one that could increase in the next few months. One attorney recently retired and can’t be replaced until the county’ hiring freeze ends.
“I’m not placing blame,” said Ingram. “The County Commissioners are working hard to fill positions,” however, “it is going to affect us.”
In response to cases of child physical and sexual abuse that are reported in the county, the Great Basin Child Advocacy center was formed in the last couple of years by a group of professionals.
“It’s in its infancy,” said Ingram, explaining that the center is composed of members of law enforcement agencies, medical professionals, counselors and social workers. Ingram is a prosecutor on the team.
The advocacy center seeks to address these cases in the community.
“It’s awesome work that group is doing,” Ingram said.
“Mistakes are very, very few,” Ingram said. “I am not making excuses to allow a child sexual abuse case to sit too long, but with my new policy, we are going to make sure these cases are handled properly.”