CHICAGO - A sheriff's department in suburban Chicago has been shocked to find a roomful of evidence left behind by a village police department that shut down two years ago -- including a moldy sexual assault kit that authorities said linked a man to the 2006 rape of a 13-year-old girl, nearly 200 guns and hundreds of bags of narcotics, officials said Friday.
In all, seven rape kits had been left rotting in an unplugged refrigerator in the former Ford Heights Police Department, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said. The guns had not been registered with the state as having been seized by police, and Dart's spokesman Steve Patterson said none of the DNA evidence found matches anyone in the state's database.
"You're not talking about ineptness, neglect, you're talking about outrageous conduct of a police department that didn't care about the residents out there," Dart said.
His deputies have been patrolling Ford Heights for the past few years after financial problems forced the village to lay off most of its 16 police officers. The sheriff's department took over completely in 2008, after two years of sharing duties with what was left of the police department, because the last few Ford Heights officers simply stopped showing up for work, Dart said.
"They just vanished," he said. Cook County deputies didn't use the police department's headquarters, because the former chief, Earl Bridges, continued working in some capacity regarding code enforcement. But Dart said he became uncomfortable with Bridges remaining in the building after it became clear the sheriff's department would be handling law enforcement in Ford Heights for the foreseeable future.
"At that point, I said enough's enough, he's got to go, we're taking over," said the sheriff, who ordered Bridges to leave last spring.
That was when deputies opened the door to the evidence room.
Detectives were stunned by what they learned about the sexual assault of the girl -- and the apparent lack of any meaningful investigation of a case in which there was a great deal of evidence against one man.
"What happened to this girl is unconscionable," said Dart, whose office arrested 27-year-old Marquis Deering this week. "She thought nothing was going to happen to him."
Ford Heights police never interviewed Deering, whose criminal history includes 15 arrests since 2001 and a conviction for aggravated vehicular manslaughter, Dart said. He said it's unclear whether they ever interviewed the girl.
Ford Heights police received a report from police in nearby Chicago Heights who interviewed the girl at a Chicago Heights hospital, Dart said. They also received a state crime lab report that concluded DNA linked Deering to the assault.
"They had it," Dart said. "And they did nothing with it."
Bridges could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the phone at a listing for an Earl Bridges refused to comment before hanging up the telephone. Ford Heights Mayor Charles Griffin did not immediately return calls for comment.
The girl told Dart's detectives that she was walking home when Deering offered her a ride in a van. She said he indicated he had a weapon, forced her to drink alcohol until she became unconscious and drove her to a house where he assaulted her.
Deering is being represented by the Cook County Public Defender's Office. It did not have an immediate comment Friday.
Dart's office said in a news release that Deering, who is in state prison and was scheduled to be released next week, initially denied the allegations, then said he had sex with the girl but did not rape her. He has been charged with criminal sexual assault, and his bond set at $100,000.
Dart's office is investigating whether Deering may be involved in other sexual assaults.
The sheriff said his office also is looking into whether criminal charges can be brought against anyone at the Ford Heights Police Department, but he acknowledged that's not likely.
"It's hard to come up with the required criminal intent," Dart said.