A federal jury decided that that a Philadelphia police practice of downgrading the complaints of rape victims did not contribute to the 1998 sexual assault and murder of graduate student Shannon Schieber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Inquirer says that the jury of six women and six men concluded that Philadelphia police did discount sexual-assault complaints. But it rejected claims by the victim’s parents that it violated the equal-protection and due-process rights of women or rape victims, or increased the likelihood of Schieber’s murder.
Despite the practice of downgrading–almost 25 percent of sexual complaints and 8 percent of serious crimes were reclassified as “noncrimes” or lesser crimes – city lawyers argued that practice was not devised intentionally to discriminate against women.
Nationwide, lawsuits seeking damages from municipalities for deaths or injuries involving police have proved more difficult to win since 1998, when the U.S. Supreme Court significantly raised the standard of proof for plaintiffs.
Schieber’s murder did result in changes. Downgrading was prohibited, and police officials ordered a reinvestigation of about 2,000 rape complaints. The department also reorganized the former Sex Crimes Unit as the current Special Victims Unit.