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Unsolved Columbia homicides grow as number of detectives stalls

Unsolved homicides increase in Columbia

Rickie Dunn Sr.'s hallway shows the stories of his time in Columbia. Pictures show his children and grandchildren, some of them adopted, over the years. As many have come and gone from his home, one large, framed picture sits in another room.

His namesake, Rickie Dunn Jr., smiles back at him. 

He's kept that picture close to him since his son was killed three years ago.

There have been no arrests connected to Dunn Jr.'s death since Nov. 30, 2014. The Columbia Police Department has never publicly identified any persons of interest.

"They say they can't do nothing until they get an eyewitness to say who did do it," Dunn Sr. told ABC 17 News.

The homicide marks the first of several unsolved cases since 2014 in Columbia. A records request made by ABC 17 News, along with previous reporting, shows that CPD has eight unsolved homicide cases since 2000. Six of those deaths occurred since 2016.

The department has also suffered from a lack of dedicated investigators for all cases. Data from the Benchmark Cities program, a study done by police departments of similarly-sized cities as Columbia, show that CPD is last in the number of sworn investigators. The department employs 13 investigators - below the 26-city average of 30 investigators, and last when compared with the raw total.

Detectives in the Criminal Investigations Division have been further tasked to work patrol shifts, as the number of calls for service rises. Department spokeswoman Bryana Larimer told ABC 17 News that while the CID has a high caseload, it's not the only key to solving these homicides.

"The Rickie Dunn homicide is a perfect example. We know there were several people that probably witnessed what had happened that night," Larimer said. "And, unfortunately, we haven't had those people come forward."

Dunn said his contact with CPD since his son's death has been minimal. Oftentimes, the family reaches out to detectives for an update. Dunn said he never felt like he had the consideration of law enforcement in his son's death from the beginning. It took four months, he said, before a detective spoke to him about Dunn Jr.'s death.

"We don't expect them to spend all their time, but every now and then just to call," Dunn said. "Just a call to assure us that somebody is working on it."

Two of the eight unsolved cases came from 2016 - the homicides of Gabrielle Rhodes and Edmund "Ricky" Randolph, Jr. Four deaths this year have not been cleared by an arrest or other circumstance - the March double shooting of Mike Walker Jr. and Jeffery Jones, Cameron Caruthers's death in May and the shooting of Jamar Hicks in July.

The Benchmark Cities data shows that CPD makes more arrests in Part 2 crimes, which include stealing and drug cases, than the average. However, the department lags behind the others for violent crimes in 2016. CPD cleared 43.1 percent of those crimes in 2016, behind the average of 59.5 percent.

CPD has 12 members on the command staff, putting it fourth on the list for Benchmark Cities. Those 12 include seven lieutenants, two assistant chiefs, two deputy chiefs and the Chief of Police. The average number of sworn officers on command staff is 8.

Community connections the department has made have helped them solve cases in a matter of days, Larimer said. Columbia's most recent homicide, the shooting death of Nathan Taylor on McKee Street, relied on information given by people who knew what happened. 

"We have to work together with our community," Larimer said. "It is imperative that we do that. It is imperative that we make the community feel comfortable working with us, because we have to work as a team to solve crimes that happen in this community."

Advocates for family members of homicide victims say the stress of an unsolved case can be great. Roxanne Nickols, a member of the local chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, lost her son Alan in 2007 when he was stabbed at a party in Jefferson City. Despite numerous witnesses, police have not made an arrest. Nickols said so far, not one witness has ever identified the person to police.

"I'm sure that the young men that know Alan and love Alan would love to take matters into their own hands," Nickols told ABC 17 News. "For them to not see justice, why should they become just like the person who did it?"

Nickols said it's a constant fight for her to keep the case relevant. Her last meeting with Jefferson City police led to the same results, she said - police are waiting to hear from an eyewitness in order to make an arrest. Grieving is difficult, Nickols said, but she appreciates the support of groups like Parents of Murdered Children for their ability to sympathize with her.

"If you can't learn to smile again, and laugh again, and care again and all of those things, you're nowhere," Nickols said.

Dunn said learning to communicate with one another may help bring down the number of unsolved crimes. His son, he said, had a knack for defusing conflict before it became violent.

"Returning to a mindset of 'Am I my brother's keeper?'" Dunn said.

 


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