Rape cases involving same suspect ‘wrongfully closed,’ getting new look after KSL Investigation
Feb 27, 2023, 10:07 PM | Updated: May 12, 2023, 5:14 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — Over the last decade, at least a dozen women and girls went to various law enforcement agencies in Utah and reported sexual assaults by the same suspect: 27-year-old Joshua Homer.
Only two of their reports resulted in charges.
Several women told the KSL Investigators they felt blamed, talked out of reporting, and even ghosted by law enforcement after coming forward.
The 12 cases the KSL Investigators identified and tracked represent women and girls who put their trust in Utah’s justice system, and reveal several instances where police failed to fully investigate.
12 rape reports were made to police over the last decade. All named the same suspect. Just 5 were sent to prosecutors. Only 2 ended with charges. Our #FailureToProtect investigation continues Tonight at 10 @DaniellaKSL @KSLInvestigates @KSL5TV #utah #criminaljustice pic.twitter.com/uDXxwaNGWp
— Keira Fairmont (@NewsKeira) February 28, 2023
In 2020, two women went to the Davis County Sheriff’s Office and reported they were raped. Investigators interviewed them about the reported assaults which had happened in 2013 and 2016, but that was it.
“Law enforcement just doesn’t seem to care,” Baylie Steed, one of the women, told the KSL Investigators in December. “It’s been two years, and I have not heard anything from them.”
At the time of that conversation, the KSL Investigators had already filed two public record requests with the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, seeking any reports involving Homer. Both times, no records related to sexual assault were provided.
It wasn’t until the KSL Investigators sent a third request, after learning the names of both women, that the sheriff’s office located their report, which revealed why Steed and the other woman hadn’t heard back.
“After speaking with Syracuse Police Department, it was determined a majority of victims resided in their jurisdiction, therefore they will be taking over as the case agents,” a Davis County detective wrote in the report. “This case will be closed with nothing further to investigate.”
Davis County Sheriff Kelly Sparks did not agree to an interview, but his office sent a statement in response to the KSL Investigators’ request to discuss the two cases.
“During our investigation, the detective assigned to the case inaccurately believed that charges for these two assaults would be handled by a different agency that had similar open cases on Mr. Homer,” the statement read. “Recently, our office was made aware that internal protocols were not followed and subsequently, those cases were wrongfully closed. We recognize that our lapse in protocol resulted in a delay in justice for these two victims and we’re sincerely sorry. Since learning of our mistake, our investigations unit has re-opened these cases and a new detective has been assigned who is currently re-examining the case.”
Steed and the other woman have since heard from the new detective who has taken over the case and is investigating.
“I am happy to finally be taken seriously and feel heard for the first time,” the second woman told the KSL Investigators.
While Steed says she did not receive any victim services or support from an advocate when she initially made her report in 2020, the sheriff’s office notes it created a victims advocate program the following year, in 2021.
“Victim rights have been and will continue to be a top priority for our office and our team will be providing as much support as possible to the victims who came forward,” the statement read.
While the investigation into their reports of sexual assault had stopped in 2020, claims against Homer did not.
‘On the back burner’
The KSL Investigators found a similar failure at another agency. A report of rape to the Roy Police Department, also in 2020, is still listed as an open and active case, despite the accuser telling KSL she hadn’t heard from a detective in years.
“I feel like I was put on the back burner and had they taken my case seriously countless women could’ve been saved from the same experience I had,” she wrote in a text message to the KSL Investigators. “The way Utah as a whole has handled rape cases needs to be reviewed and put into check because there are several failed women and cases all across the state that deserve to be heard and deserve justice.”
Roy Police Chief Matthew Gwynn also did not agree to an interview, but in an email, he told the KSL Investigators that an internal investigation launched after KSL’s inquiry revealed several “employee turnover and workflow processes complicated the amount of time it took to investigate this case.”
He also wrote that the department is conducting an internal audit to determine whether any other cases were impacted by the same issues.
“Now that this case has been brought to our attention, we are evaluating our internal controls and use of our report management system to see where we can improve in the hopes of reducing or preventing these extended timelines in the future,” Gwynn wrote.
The woman in that case has since been contacted by a detective and her case is in the process of being screened with the Weber County Attorney’s Office.
‘I can’t say that I felt protected’
“I said no, and it still happened,” a Utah County woman told the KSL Investigators, describing an encounter with the same suspect in Dec. 2021.
She reported she was raped to the Utah County Sheriff’s Office in Feb. 2022, after processing her experience and seeking counsel from others. She first spoke to a deputy over the phone, who took her initial report.
“He said, ‘Okay, but, you know, you let him into your room,’” she recalled. “I do remember feeling like, ‘Okay, so is that my fault?’”
“Asking, ‘Why did you invite that person to the room?’ is certainly victim blaming,” said Justin Boardman, a retired Utah detective who now trains law enforcement in trauma-informed investigating.
The woman’s case was assigned to one of the agency’s special victims unit detectives, who called the woman, wrote a five-sentence report, and closed the case the next day.
The woman told the KSL Investigators the call lasted, “Less than five minutes, I’m sure.”
The detective wrote in the case report that during the call, “it was decided this case would be closed as informational only.”
When asked who made that decision, the woman said, “It was decided by the detective, and I agreed to it.”
She described feeling talked out of moving forward.
“They gave their opinion of if they thought that it would be worth it, I guess if you know, it’s a delayed report, there’s not any evidence,” she said. “I was, I guess, told that it probably wouldn’t hold well in a courtroom, which I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to press charges at the time, but it didn’t seem like I had much of an option or if it was worth doing.”
But there was evidence. For example, the woman had text messages from the suspect, including one in which he later expressed remorse, writing, “I’m really sorry.”
“You feel like the system’s there to help protect in this situation,” the woman said. “But I can’t say that I felt protected.”
‘A battle through the criminal justice system’
Utah County Sheriff’s Lt. Jason Randall, who oversees investigations, defended the agency’s handling of the case.
“When victims in these type of circumstances call up, we have a very open and honest conversation with them. It is sometimes a discouraging conversation,” he said.
Randall said detectives are not trying to discourage survivors from pursuing justice, but rather, they’re trying to prepare them for the process that lies ahead if they continue.
“We have to have our victims in a state of mind that when they come forward, they’re ready to do battle with us, because that’s what it becomes,” he said. “It becomes a battle through the criminal justice system, that is not kind to victims.”
After reviewing the case report, Boardman disagreed. He said it is an example of investigating a case to close it, rather than to prove it.
“Absolutely wrong. Absolutely horrific,” he said of the way the case was handled. “And I can say that I’ve done the same thing as that detective did. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
The agency’s handling of the case also goes against what is considered best practice by law enforcement and legal experts around the country.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) guidelines for sexual assault investigations indicate an interview and investigation should always be conducted; a delay in reporting should never deter a thorough investigation; and survivors should never be pushed to make decisions about their participation in the process during the initial stages of an investigation.
In its ‘Model Response to Sexual Violence for Prosecutors’ guide, non-profit AEquitas advises that survivors should never be given the impression their case will not be prosecuted.
“If a survivor enters the system, calls us on the phone, and says, ‘Hey, I want to report this,’ at that point in time, you take the report, you have the survivor come in, and you talk with that survivor and listen to their experience,” Boardman said. “That’s procedural justice. And that is something that we are horrible with.”
Randall never spoke with the woman, but says the detective told him she was not ready to move forward, and that is why the case was closed as “informational only.” There is no recording of the call to confirm either recollection of how it went.
But the woman told the KSL Investigators she was willing to participate, and her motivation in coming forward was to do whatever she could to protect others. That’s why, when she saw a social media post about a state investigation into Homer months later, she reached out to the victim advocate she’d been connected with in the Utah County Sheriff’s Office to ask about the state’s investigation and if she could participate.
“They did some digging, they got the detective’s information and sent it to me, and I reached out to the detective, because I had heard that she was trying to interview other survivors to get this statewide case put together,” the woman explained.
She said the investigator with the State Bureau of Investigations conducted an in-depth interview with her and collected multiple items of evidence. That investigation is ongoing.
‘We are enabling this’
Eight months after the Utah County Sheriff’s Office closed that case, Vanessa Clark reported to them that she too was sexually assaulted by Homer. “I can’t believe he was able to do what he did,” she told the KSL Investigators. “My story could have been prevented.” Her report is the very thing other women said they tried to prevent by coming forward months and years earlier.
“The pain in her eyes, I could see it and I could feel her pain,” said Steed, as she described watching Clark’s interview with the KSL Investigators. “It was very hard to watch.”
“It could have been prevented. I truly believe that,” said the woman who made a report in Utah County last February. “I did what I could. I reported. It just feels like it’s never enough.”
Boardman said when the system fails to properly investigate reports of sexual assault, it also fails to protect communities from future offenses.
“We are enabling this,” he said. “Our justice system has created many victims.”
“Law enforcement is there to serve and protect,” Steed said. “But they are not protecting very well against him.”
Notably missing from several case reports are statements from the suspect. In four of the cases examined by the KSL Investigators, there is no documentation in police reports of any attempts to reach him.
Since the KSL Investigators started asking questions, at least four rape cases involving Homer have been formally presented to prosecutors after significant delays.
Homer was arrested in December, the day after a KSL Investigation revealed he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation while on probation for sex crimes against a 16-year-old. Since then, he’s spent more time behind bars than all of his sentences in the last 10 years combined.
He remains in custody at the Davis County Jail and is currently being held without bail.
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at email@example.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.
This report is part of a series examining how apparent gaps at every level of Utah’s criminal justice system fail to protect Utahns.
If you have experienced sexual violence, you can access help and resources by calling Utah’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Helpline at 1-888-421-1100. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for free, confidential counseling.