Year after Minneapolis Pride sex assault, charges declined

For one Minnesota woman memories from the Pride Block Party a year ago come back as two-to-three-second flashes:  Images of dancing with a friend at the Saloon nightclub, sitting in a stranger’s car in a parking ramp, and her rape by that same stranger.

"I remember about a minute of the entire night," said Kaitlyn, 25, who asked that her last name be withheld.

The suspect dropped her off around 6:30 Monday morning in downtown Minneapolis.  Her leg was broken in two places, and she had no idea how it happened.

Kaitlyn went to the hospital to get a rape kit performed and a blood sample drawn. 

"Help. I’m scared"

At the hospital, she saw a text message she had sent around bar closing time.  "Help. I’m scared," she had texted a friend.

Then she saw a Snapchat invitation from the man who she says raped her. 

"At one point I remember him stating to me that, ‘Maybe, I’m not really a lesbian,’" she recalled.

She reported the sexual assault to her local police department, which referred the case to the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) Sex Crimes Unit.

When she talked to a detective, a woman, three weeks later, the sergeant seemed skeptical.

"Just the way that she was choosing to talk to me made me feel very much like she didn't believe what I was saying or that I had some sort of role in that situation, which was a little discouraging," Kaitlyn said.

She provided the Snapchat invitation, which included the name of the suspect, to the detective and told her she had only three drinks that night and believes she was drugged.

The long wait

Then she waited. For months. And didn’t hear a word.

Every month she would reach out to Minneapolis Police asking if there were any developments in the case and was "treated as a burden for even reaching out," she said.

In February, eight months after the assault, the detective told her she had finally interviewed the suspect, by phone. 

The suspect told the detective the sex was consensual.

"Which is just absolutely wild to me considering my sexuality. I am a lesbian. I am not interested in men whatsoever," said Kaitlyn.

FOX 9 is not identifying the suspect because he has not been charged with a crime and has no prior criminal history in Minnesota. 

Ten months later, on April 20, the toxicology came back and showed Kaitlyn had Benadryl in her system, also known as Diphenhydramine, a drug she hadn’t taken in years. 

In high doses, and in combination with other substances, "Benadryl cocktails" have reportedly been used as a date rape drug to render victims unconscious.

Kaitlyn said she was told her blood alcohol concentration in a blood sample was .067 and .02 in the urine sample, both below the legal level for driving in Minnesota. 

Unexplained Delays

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety (DPS) said they could not discuss specific cases, but its Internal Affairs Division investigated after Kaitlyn’s father contacted the agency concerned about the delay in processing the rape kit.

The investigation "determined there was no misconduct by DPS employees in this case," the spokesperson wrote to FOX 9.

In the summer of 2022 the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s (BCA) average turnaround time for DNA testing on sexual assault kits submitted by the MPD was 45-to-60 days, the spokesperson said.  The average turnaround for alcohol testing was 15 days and toxicology took 7-to-9 months.

A MPD spokesperson said they were unable to comment on the specifics of Kaitlyn’s case.  MPD records indicate the case is still considered ‘active.’

The MPD handled 800 reported sex offenses in 2022. 

So far this year, there have been 397 reported sex offenses, an 8 percent year-to-date increase.

Charges declined

On June 8th, nearly a year after the assault, a prosecutor with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office told her they were declining to file criminal charges because prosecutors didn’t believe they could prove the case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. 

But Kaitlyn said that seemed to contradict what the prosecutor told her in a phone conversation.

"The very first thing he said to me was that he, 100 percent believes that this man sexually assaulted me and that this is a bad man," Kaitlyn recalled.

In a statement to FOX 9, a spokesperson for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (HCAO) said they have "prioritized prosecuting sexual assaults facilitated by drugs and alcohol."

But added that "it’s extremely difficult to develop physical evidence to demonstrate incapacitation, a requirement under state law."

"And despite a thorough investigation, this unfortunate reality is true in this case," the statement read.

Under Minnesota statutes for criminal sexual conduct, mental incapacitation is defined as "a person under the influence of alcohol, a narcotic, anesthetic, or any other substance administered to the person without the person’s agreement, lacks the judgment to give a reasoned consent to sexual contact or sexual penetration."

It is possible to test blood for the level of Diphenhydramine, which could determine the amount ingested and whether it is perhaps incapacitating. 

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Nearly half declined for prosecution

In a recent four-year period, from 2018 to 2022, HCAO received 1,350 sexual assault cases referred by law enforcement.

Nearly half of those cases, 48 percent, were declined for prosecution, while 43 percent were charged, according to the HCAO dashboard.

Of those cases that resulted in charges, 63 percent were convicted, 20 percent were dismissed, 7 percent were acquitted, and another 7 percent plea bargained to a lesser charge, the data reveals.

Kaitlyn, who is a victim-witness coordinator for a city prosecutor outside the metro, said she is not naïve to how the system works. 

"I think that is the entire purpose of a jury is to comb through the details of a case and make a decision when things are unclear," Kaitlyn said.

"If you only prosecuted the cases where there is 100% proof that a crime was committed by this individual, what is the purpose of a jury? What is the purpose of trial?" she asked.

Returning to Pride

After the assault, with 11 screws and a plate in her leg, Kaitlyn was unable to drive and unable to work for three months.  She’s been left in debt and doubt. 

She sought compensation for her losses from the Crime Victims Reparations Board, but the board has been unable to assist because it is unclear if her injuries were sustained during a crime.

And yet, after all, that she has been through, Kaitlyn still plans on returning to Pride this year.  Having lost so much, she refuses to let the stranger take that too. 

"And I am going to celebrate it. I know it's going to be difficult, but I'm going to try and build a positive association with that weekend, even if it's hard," she said.

"I am going to be celebrating Pride."

HCAO: "Unfortunate Reality"

A spokesperson for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office provided FOX 9 with the following statement on the case:

"Over the past five years, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has prioritized prosecuting cases involving victims of sexual assaults that were facilitated by drugs and alcohol. The office has a dedicated prosecutor for these cases and works closely with law enforcement to develop evidence and put together provable cases. 

"Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult to develop physical evidence to affirmatively demonstrate incapacitation, which is a requirement under state law. That does not mean the allegations aren’t true but it does mean the cases can be difficult to charge and even more difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt with admissible evidence in court. 

"Despite a thorough investigation, this unfortunate reality is true in this case.  We are grateful to the victim in this case and so many others who have had the courage to come forward to tell their stories. And we stand ready to work with those who are not yet ready to do so. Our office will continue to prioritize these cases and look for ways to further improve our ability to seek justice and accountability."