An Hour With... Kym Worthy
Wayne County Prosecutor
Kym Worthy took office in 2004 as the first African-American to serve as Wayne County prosecutor. She is best known for trying the Malice Green police brutality case in the mid-1990s, and filing charges against former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2008. A year later, Worthy’s office discovered more than 11,000 untested sexual assault kits in a Detroit Police Department storage facility. The “lawyer for the people” says she is focused on bringing justice to those victims by getting the kits tested during her fourth four-year term. In her free time, Worthy is a board member of the Dearborn Figure Skating Club and a strong advocate for adopting and fostering.
Hour Detroit: What are the most important things that your office has been doing over the last year?
Kim Worthy: Obviously the Rape Kit Project is important. We have also been focusing on the nonfatal shootings that we’ve had in the 10th precinct and expanding to the fifth and ninth precincts, and trying to focus on our domestic violence homicides. Focusing on getting our backlog cases and our child abuse units. Also we are trying to advance into the 21st century by trying to update our equipment. We are beginning the process of becoming a paperless office.
Back to the Rape Kit Project, how did you get involved?
The Michigan State Police took over Detroit’s (crime labs) back in ’09 and they wanted to do an inventory, so one of my managers (Rob Spada) and I went around with them. We were taken to a warehouse-type building on Detroit property and saw what we thought at the time was about 10,000 untested rape kits.
How do you think they got there?
That’s something you have to ask the police department. All we know is what we discovered. ... I immediately decided that we would bring justice to all of the victims, that they all need to be tested and to make sure this never happens again — and to make sure we do all that we could for the project.
How long did it take?
It took a long time. We had to develop a database. We had to have money because at that time in 2009 and 2010 it was costing between $1,200-1,500 per kit to check. And that was cost prohibitive. ... It would have cost us between $12 and $15 million to (test) what we found out later to be 11,341 untested kits. So, we had a lot of work to do. I talked to personally anyone I could think of that might have wanted to donate money to the project. Robert Ficano (former Wayne County executive) was uninterested in assisting and didn’t think we should be doing it unless we could fund it outside the general fund. So, we turned to Detroit businessmen and women, we turned to the federal government who was very generous in giving us grants, we turned to the Joyful Heart Foundation (founded by Law & Order SVU actress Mariska Hargitay), the Michigan Women’s Foundation, and the Detroit Crime Commission and formed a partnership with them. It’s been a lot of work over the years to make sure this never happens again.
What are your biggest challenges?
(It’s) always getting the office properly funded (and) properly resourced. We are the lowest-funded major prosecutor’s office in the country. It’s getting a little better and that is something I continuously strive for. Also, we need to be in the 24/7 technological world. We have very old equipment. We still have paper files and index cards. …
What has been the biggest accomplishment?
Personally, striving every day to be a good parent to my three children, making them good, decent, people of good character. Jobwise, you want to have an office that we make just decisions based on facts and evidence. A big challenge we have coming is that police departments in the county are purchasing body cameras and people think that will solve all of the problems. I’m certainly in support for it — I’m in favor of anything that helps us find the truth — but with that (it is) very, very, very extremely expensive to analyze evidence from that and make progress. We have to … go through grant funding and private partnership. The grants will eventually end and we will have to stop the work (or) find another way to be financed. In my view, financing for a prosecutor’s office, finance office (and) police department should be pre-eminent — state, city, or local.
There’s talk about a possible television series based on you?
Well, Hollywood is an interesting place. Right now, a TNT network has bought it, they have hired writers who are working on a pilot right now. I don’t know what the timeline is or when it will air, but it’s an interesting world.
What’s your main focus as prosecutor?
I am focused on making this office functional and to create a safe community. Detroit has always been moving forward, it didn’t just happen in the last two or three years. … I always believed it was going to be a better place to live. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be here.
Education: Undergraduate degree in economics and political science from the University of Michigan, law degree from the University of Notre Dame School of Law
1989: Became the first African-American selected by the office as a special assignment prosecutor specializing in high-profile murder cases
1994: Elected as judge to the Detroit Recorder’s Court (now the Wayne County Circuit Court)
2004: Took office as Wayne County prosecutor
2008: Successfully charged ex-mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick and his former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty
2010: Began Rape Kit Project
2015: Enough SAID (Sexual Assault In Detroit) launched to raise private sector funding from major corporations, local businesses, families, and individuals to finish testing kits
Since testing the kits: As of April 2016, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has identified 750 suspected sexual offenders and obtained 41 convictions