Joint OPDA-NOPD SAKI task force honored by Metropolitan Crime Commission awards
October 1, 2020
For Immediate Release

Contact: Ken Daley, Public Information

Members of a joint New Orleans task force of cold-case rape prosecutors and investigators were honored Thursday (Oct. 1) at District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, where they received the prestigious 2020 Excellence In Law Enforcement award from the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

MCC President Rafael Goyeneche presented the awards to members of the SAKI units (Sexual Assault Kit Initiative) of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office and New Orleans Police Department. The grant-funded units have worked in tandem over the past two years to ensure that so-called “cold case” rape investigations of decades-old sexual assaults are revisited and revived when possible with the use of modern DNA evidence screening.

NOPD Supt. Shaun Ferguson and Deputy Supt. Paul Noel also attended the awards presentation recognizing SAKI-tasked detectives, prosecutors, investigators and support staff.

Since the inception of the OPDA’s SAKI unit in October 2018, Cannizzaro’s special prosecutors have opened cases against 29 defendants linked by DNA to the decades-old sexual assaults of 59 male and female victims. The unit has another 138 cases under some stage of active investigation.

The teams honored for this important work include:

  • Assistant District Attorney Mary Glass, OPDA SAKI unit chief
  • Assistant District Attorney Naomi Jones, OPDA SAKI lead trial prosecutor
  • Detective David Benelli, OPDA SAKI lead investigator
  • Detective Sgt. Claudia Bruce, NOPD SAKI Sex Crimes Cold Case Unit
  • Detective Rob Long, NOPD Investigations and Support Bureau
  • Detective Kevin Richardson, NOPD SAKI Sex Crimes Cold Case Unit
  • Tanya Poret, OPDA SAKI Grant Manager
  • Michelle Cassisa, OPDA SAKI Victim Advocate

“Chief Ferguson and I are incredibly proud of the important work done by our respective SAKI personnel,” Cannizzaro said. “We are grateful that the Metropolitan Crime Commission has given the meaningful recognition that they deserve with this important award.

“These individuals have dedicated themselves to bringing overdue justice to victims of unsolved rapes from as far back as the 1970s. They have pursued new leads, found and tested or re-tested evidence contained in old rape kits, and drawn upon modern DNA technology to identify sex criminals who thought they had escaped accountability for their crimes. The relentless hunt by our SAKI personnel shows these sex offenders that there still are consequences to be paid for their vicious crimes.”

Ferguson said, “This is a true example of how partnerships work, and a true example of our dedication to helping bring closure for our victims of sexual assault.”

Goyeneche called the advent of modern DNA technology the greatest scientific advancement in criminal justice since the use of fingerprints arose in 1892.

“These are the types of significant cases that improve the quality of life for all people, that hold people accountable and make the community safer,” Goyeneche said. “This really is the true mission of what the Metropolitan Crime Commission is about.”