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Cook County Officer Charged In 1997 Rape

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Robert Buchanan, a former Cook County corrections officer, is charged with raping an 11-year-old girl in 1997. (Credit: Cook County Sheriff's Office)

Robert Buchanan, a former Cook County corrections officer, is charged with raping an 11-year-old girl in 1997. (Credit: Cook County Sheriff’s Office)

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Updated 09/22/11 – 4:15 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — A Cook County Sheriff’s correctional officer is the latest person to be charged with rape after victim rape kits that went untested for years in south suburban Harvey were recovered in a raid.

Robert Buchanan, 45, was in the Cook County Jail on Thursday on a charge of raping a 10-year-old girl in 1997. He was being held on $200,000 bond.

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Buchanan was charged after prosecutors obtained his DNA and linked it to a rape testing kit. That kit was among 200 untested kits recovered during a raid of the Harvey police department four years ago.

Prosecutors said it was an absolute debacle that Harvey police sat on that evidence for so long.

“It’s an absolute travesty. Justice absolutely was not served on behalf of these victims,” said Jennifer Gonzalez, head of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office sex crimes unit.

The victim told her mother about the assault and a rape kit analysis was done at the hospital shortly after the attack. The victim’s mother contacted Harvey Police, who questioned the defendant in August 1997, but released him without charges and without ever sending the sexual assault kit to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab for testing.

Gonzalez said the fact the girl’s attacker is a police officer only adds to the horror of the case. “And also adding to the horror is the fact that it was a 10-year-old girl,” she said.

Gonzalez said investigators have been working to try to match the 200 rape kits seized from the Harvey Police Department to new or even current suspects and cases.

“We only have so many personnel that we can dedicate to working on those cases in addition to their other daily jobs,” she said. “Each of those victims had to be located and some were out of state, some had died.”

On top of that, only about 50 of those kits were viable from a scientific or statute of limitations standpoint.

Gonzalez said that 14 people have been charged with crimes in 21 sexual assaults from the kits seized from the Harvey Police Department — meaning that some of the offenders were serial attackers.

Gonzalez said investigators’ work on behalf of the victims isn’t over.

“Some of the victims were so leery of the criminal justice system that they … no longer want to cooperate in the investigation,” she said, adding that the those victims felt like the system had already failed them. “And it did fail them in that time. We are now trying to right that wrong.”

Buchanan was being held at the Cook County Jail, but a Sheriff’s office spokesman said they expect to move him to another county jail because Buchanan is so familiar with the Cook County Jail.

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