Montgomery County’s sexual assault response team, or SART, has its first members as of a Nov. 9 Commissioners Court meeting.
The approved team includes:
- Conroe Police Department Chief Jeff Christy;
- Tiana Sanford, Montgomery County assistant district attorney, representing District Attorney Brett Ligon;
- Loren Jones, Montgomery County Women’s Center managing attorney, representing the Women’s Center CEO Sarah Raleigh;
- Lt. Jermaine Jenkins of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, representing Sheriff Rand Henderson; and
- Unnamed representatives from the Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners, Montgomery County Hospital District and Tri-County Behavioral Health.
District Attorney Brett Ligon said the team will have its first meeting before Dec. 1, when an initial report must be submitted to commissioners.
Every county in Texas must create an SART per Senate Bill 476, which was passed by the Texas Legislature in June and went into effect Sept. 1. Ligon said the county was already investigating sexual assault cases through some of the members of the team and described the SART as a “very, very good vehicle.”
“It’s supposed to increase the efficacy of [sexual assault] investigations and decrease the trauma of [survivors],” Ligon said.
SB 476 mandates every SART must include a chief administrator, the police chief serving the county’s largest police department, the county sheriff, a prosecutor with jurisdiction over adult sexual assault cases, a sexual assault nurse examiner, and a behavioral health services provider or representative from the county's largest health provider.
Sanford said the DA’s office has prosecuted 89 cases involving adult survivors of sexual assault in the past five years. The Texas Department of Public Safety’s 2020 crime report reported 3,038 arrests of both juveniles and adults for sexual assault.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website, on a five-year average involving all ages reported, 50 out of 1,000 sexual assaults result in a trial, and 28 result in a felony conviction.
Raleigh said that in the past 12 months in Montgomery County and parts of Tarrant County, the center has responded to 534 requests for aid involving bringing survivors of sexual assault to hospitals for forensic examination.
"We are thrilled [to be involved]; we have an outstanding community here," Raleigh said. "DA Ligon has done an exceptional job of making the community aware of the problem and making sure the survivors of sexual assault come first."
Sanford said in an Oct. 15 interview the SART reports will include cases that were investigated but did not proceed to a jury trial. She said it was difficult to say generally why cases would not be tried.
“When we present cases to grand juries for indictment, we present the facts of the case, the probable cause, and then the grand jury discusses these very important matters on all cases confidentially,” Sanford said. “There’s so many reasons why [the grand jury would not indict], but ultimately it means that the grand jury has not found probable cause.”
Henderson released an emailed statement through a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office Nov. 10
“Sheriff Rand Henderson is proud to be a part of a team that will work together to ensure efficacy of sexual assault investigations. The team will meet quarterly and evaluate established protocols, policies, procedures and resources to ensure that sexual assault investigations are investigated in a thorough and timely matter, which will decrease the trauma for sexual assault [survivors],” the statement said.