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Rape Victim Questions Police Investigation

By Teresa Rochester

Oct. 22 -- Six years after she was raped allegedly by the "Southside Rapist," Karen Pomer says she has found new evidence that the Santa Monica Police Department bungled what has become the most expensive and intensive investigation in its history.

Pomer said she has uncovered documentation that she identified Israel Hardin as a possible suspect a month after she was raped in October 1995 but that police did not follow up, according to a letter she sent last week to the Santa Monica City Council.

"In fact," Pomer wrote in the Oct. 19 letter, "I was able to confirm that no one from SMPD questioned Israel Hardin about the 'Southside Rapes' until 1999."

Less than two months after Pomer said she identified her attacker, Hardin allegedly raped an 82-year-old women while her husband was locked in the trunk of their car.

"In the weeks following my rape African American men who looked nothing like the description I gave of the rapist were stopped at random by the SMPD and taken into custody," Pomer wrote. "When I gave them a legitimate lead, nothing was done."

A long-time critic of the SMPD, Pomer -- who asked prosecutor's to dismiss the case without prejudice because Hardin already was sentenced to more than 130 years without parole in a previous case -- is calling for a review of the way rape cases are handled by the department.

In an e-mailed response to a Lookout inquiry about the letter, Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr. noted that despite the dismissal "the prosecution process of that individual is open and any discussion of the specific evidence that could be presented at a future trial is inappropriate.

"It would be impossible to fully respond to this (Pomer's) statement because to give context to the statement and provide a complete response would require just such a discussion," Butts said. "An investigation by definition is an inquiry to ascertain information and facts currently unknown."

Butts called the search for the suspect in the series of sexual assaults "the most resource intensive and comprehensive investigation in the history of the Santa Monica Police Department."

"A typical police investigation requires exploration of a dozen or more paths or leads," Butts said. "An investigation such as the Southside assault series ordinarily requires many more. There were indeed, many concurrent paths of investigation explored.

"Both the Department and the City of Santa Monica provided resources, authorized rewards and never gave up on our efforts to bring this suspect to justice and provide closure and justice for all of the victims. That remains our focus and purpose to this day."

Pomer's letter, which was faxed to the City Council on Friday, has been forwarded to City Manager Susan McCarthy. City spokeswoman Judy Rambeau said that in such cases McCarthy discusses the situation with the department involved and a response letter is issued.

Pomer wrote that she discovered documentation that she had identified her attacker on the sixth anniversary of the rape that took place on Oct. 4, 1995. Pomer was kidnapped at gunpoint from in front of her Santa Monica home and raped over a period of six hours.

On Nov. 14, 1995 Pomer was shown "six packs," or photo line-ups, and she says that she identified Hardin.

SMPD Detective D. Salerno wrote in a Dec. 1999 supplemental police report, "I also noticed that the six pack line-up with Hardin depicted in window number two had been shown to the victim in November 1995. There was a notation on the back of the folder indicating that the victim indicated that Hardin was possibly the suspect. However, another victim looked at the same line-up and did not make identification."

However a previous supplemental report written in 1995 by Detective Linda Brown states that Pomer "did not identify anyone in the line ups." Pomer said the statement is incorrect. Brown, who was assigned to the case, has since been fired after she was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in May of 1999

The case -- which garnered national attention when the television show "Dateline" ran Pomer's story -- sparked anger in the community when police did not release information about her rape, as well as an earlier rape, until five days later. More than 100 people packed the Church in Ocean Park following the rapes to discuss personal safety in the wake of the attacks.

"There was an outcry in the community," said Nick Madigan, a reporter for Variety and the New York Times, who was the crime reporter for the defunct Outlook at the time of the rapes. "There are cops there doing a good job, I'm sure. It was just astonishing how insensitive they were to these women."

Pomer went before the City Council in January of 1996 to complain about her treatment by investigating officers, which she said included "insensitivity, rudeness, incompetence and indifference." In her current letter Pomer wrote that the council dismissed her concerns and calls for changes in the way the department handles rape cases.

"The immediate response by City government and the SMPD was to close ranks as opposed to seriously addressing the issues raised," she wrote. "Unfortunately, this intractable stance created tension, which resulted in an impeded search for the rapist."

Hardin was arrested in January 1999 and has been convicted for another rape. On Monday, the case against Hardin involving Pomer and another victim was dismissed without prejudice. The victims -- who will not have to relive their rapes in court -- are certain Hardin will never get out of prison. The case can be re-filed at anytime within the statute of limitations.

"It wasn't because we weren't being cooperative," Pomer said about the decision to have the case dismissed. "The guy is already serving 130-something years with no chance of parole... Most of us felt confident he was the person who did it. I feel like 70 percent he did it."

In her letter, Pomer said she is still seeking changes in the department's approach to rape victims.

"It would be important to have outside people evaluate the current process, including how does the SMPD interact with the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center and other groups that have expertise in responding to assault victims," the letter states.

In her letter Pomer also posed a series of questions. "Who will take responsibility for dropping the ball?" she asks. "How much have rape investigations changed in the past six years? How will the next Santa Monica citizen who comes before council with complaints against the SMPD be received?"

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