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Boston area police failed to act on reports for years before arresting serial rapist

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The brother of the Massachusetts attorney general goes on trial later this year for allegedly sexually assaulting nine women. A new investigation from member station WBUR finds that the police and county prosecutors in the Boston area working the cases did not act on multiple reports of rape by Alvin Campbell Jr. over several years. WBUR's Walter Wuthmann reports. And a warning - this story includes descriptions of sexual violence.

WALTER WUTHMANN, BYLINE: Four years ago, Alvin Campbell Jr. stood in a hallway at Boston Municipal Court.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...The matter of Alvin Campbell. Counsel?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you.

WUTHMANN: Campbell was being arraigned on charges he kidnapped and raped a 26-year-old woman after she left a holiday party downtown. But Campbell refused to enter the courtroom, even as Judge Michael Coyne ordered him to.

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MICHAEL COYNE: So you don't want me to have to come back there. Show yourself to me. I cannot see you from where I'm seated, sir.

WUTHMANN: Campbell finally stepped through the doorway. Prosecutor Elizabeth Riley laid out the case, saying the victim got into Campbell's car thinking it was an Uber.

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ELIZABETH RILEY: She does not remember anything about that car ride, Your Honor. The next thing that she remembers is a vision of a man on top of her and then waking up naked in a bed.

WUTHMANN: Boston police identified the man as Campbell using DNA, video, and GPS data. After Campbell was arrested, officers found photos and videos of other attacks on his phone. They eventually charged him with raping eight women and attempting to rape a ninth. Campbell pleaded not guilty to all charges on a 2021 Zoom call from jail.

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UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: At this time, sir, how do you wish to plead to each of these indictments?

ALVIN CAMPBELL JR: Not guilty.

WUTHMANN: Campbell argues the sexual encounters were consensual. He remains in jail in Suffolk County, which includes Boston, awaiting a court date later this year. The case drew national attention. Here's then-Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins speaking to a Rhode Island CBS affiliate.

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RACHAEL ROLLINS: This is the behavior of a predator, and I would be surprised if he were not engaging in this behavior in many of the places he went.

WUTHMANN: What the district attorney didn't say was that police had suspected Campbell of rape for more than three years. Through a records request, WBUR found a search warrant application showing four women reported they'd been sexually assaulted from 2016 to 2018. Their stories were eerily similar. Each time, the women said Campbell sexually assaulted them after driving them home from bars in downtown Boston. Each time, DNA evidence matched with Campbell, and the search warrant suggests that each time, law enforcement here decided not to arrest him or charge him with a crime.

LAURA DUNN: We need to stop waiting for offenders to have assaulted numerous people before we take action. We need to believe survivors the first time.

WUTHMANN: That's Laura Dunn, an attorney based in D.C., who represents survivors of sexual assault. Dunn and other experts point to national data showing only 1 in 5 reported rapes ever lead to arrest. Even fewer result in convictions. There are many reasons. Sometimes victims don't want to testify because they fear retaliation. Investigators sometimes fail to test rape kits, and the cases can be hard to win in court because there are rarely witnesses.

In Campbell's case, two women did testify before a Suffolk County grand jury, saying he sexually assaulted them after driving them home from a downtown bar. But the district attorney's office dropped the case before grand jurors could even decide whether to indict Campbell. The DA's office refuses to comment on that decision. But in an internal memo described in Campbell's court filings, prosecutors said one of the roommates was so intoxicated, she wasn't sure she, quote, "actually said no."

Former prosecutors and legal analysts we spoke with wonder whether officials were also wary of bringing charges because of Alvin Campbell's prominent sister, Andrea Campbell, then a Boston City counselor and now the state's attorney general. We haven't found any clear evidence of direct political influence in this case, But former Los Angeles County sex crimes prosecutor Samuel Dordulian says a powerful relative can sometimes scare off investigators.

SAMUEL DORDULIAN: Oftentimes, you probably will get that phone call. Hey, you know, you do realize who this person is. So you take extra care. You slow it down, probably more than you would have otherwise. If it's one of those cases where it's literally, you know, 50/50 on whether you should file, you'll probably hesitate.

WUTHMANN: Boston police refused to comment or release records of their Campbell investigations. The Suffolk DA's office firmly denies Alvin Campbell's family connection was a factor. Attorney General Andrea Campbell rarely discusses the case and did not agree to an interview, but the state's highest law enforcement official did release a recorded statement.

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ANDREA CAMPBELL: I remain horrified, heartbroken and devastated by this case. I support survivors of sexual assault without qualification, and I will continue to pray for the survivors in this case who have shown tremendous courage in coming forward.

WUTHMANN: Her office says she had no contact with law enforcement about the charges and has recused herself from the case. UMass criminologist Melissa Morabito says Campbell's case is an egregious example of a larger issue.

MELISSA MORABITO: I think the whole way that sexual assault is treated within the criminal justice system is in need of reform.

WUTHMANN: Whatever the verdict, big questions remain in the Alvin Campbell case. Did an accused rapist's family connection slow down efforts to put him behind bars? And did police, through incompetence or indifference, allow a serial rapist to walk free? For NPR News, I'm Walter Wuthmann in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Walter Wuthmann - WBUR
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