District court dismisses suit against police department for failure to investigate rape claim

A district court judge has dismissed both federal and state claims against a northern Indiana police department accused of failing to adequately investigate a rape case, finding the plaintiff and alleged rape victim failed to state a claim for relief on constitutional or equal protection grounds.

Judge Rudy Lozano of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana dismissed Alma Jean Walton’s claims against the Merrillville Police Department and its chief, Joseph Petruch, on Tuesday, agreeing with the defendants that Walton failed to adequately state claims for violations of her constitutional, equal protection and due process rights. Walton, who is black, sued the police department in 2015, nearly a year after she first reported that she was forcibly raped while sleeping in November 2014.

Though Walton initially contacted Merrillville police on Nov. 11, 2014, she alleged an officer was not dispatched to her home to investigate until Dec. 9. Further, Walton alleged that although her rape kit was sent to the police in the following January, she did not receive a response until September 2015, when Petruch wrote to tell her the kit showed no sign or evidence to substantiate her rape claim. Walton continues to claim she never received the results of the kit and was never provided with documentation to prove whether it was processed.

The plaintiff’s district court complaint claims the department never processed her rape kit and failed to adequately investigate her claims. Specifically, she raised federal claims alleging police violated her constitutional right to her DNA sample, her due process rights, and her equal protection rights by failing to investigation her allegations because she is a black woman.

Lozano, however, agreed with the defendants that Walton failed to adequately state a claim for relief on any of those allegations.  Looking specifically to the alleged constitutional violations, the judge pointed to precedent from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals holding a plaintiff “’does not have a constitutional right to have the police investigate his case at all, still less to do so to his level of satisfaction.” Similarly, U.S. Supreme Court precedent has “’flatly rejected the notion there is a freestanding substantive due process right to access DNA evidence,’” Lozano wrote.

Turning to Walton’s allegations of race and gender discrimination, Lozano said the woman “failed to allege, much less point to any factual content, that the Department had a widespread custom or policy of failing to investigate alleged rapes of women or African Americans… .” That ruling also defeated Walton’s due process claim, the judge said, because such a claim cannot be proven simply because the police department failed to follow its own policy by discriminating against her.

Thus, Lozano dismissed each of Walton’s federal claims with prejudice. He likewise dismissed her state law claims for violations of the Indiana Constitution, negligence, privacy and defamation “because the federal claims (were) dismissed prior to trial.” He remanded those claims to the Lake Circuit Court for further proceedings.  

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