MINOT – The Minot Police Department recently changed the structure of its interview rooms for sexual assault victims, to make it more comfortable for the victims being interviewed.
Kristin Guerton, detective in the investigations division for the Minot PD, said she heard of an organization called Project Beloved: The Molly Jane Mission at a conference she attended in 2019.
Tracy Matheson of Fort Worth, Texas, and founder of Project Beloved, said the non-profit does several methods of outreach including what she calls the Beloved Bundles.
These bundles are stringed backpacks full of necessities such as clothing, a hygiene kit, a stress ball, a coloring book and more for victims of sexual assault, especially if the police need to use the victim’s immediate clothing for evidence, and the victim has nothing else to change into. These items have been donated to Minot’s Domestic Violence Crisis Center.
Project Beloved also strives to change police departments’ interview rooms across the nation to be more welcoming and friendly to the victims being interviewed.
“Tracy provides the stuff necessary for these interview rooms,” Guerton explained. “We painted the room a soft pastel color. They supplied all the artwork and furniture for it.”
Other items include a lamp, weighted blankets, fidgets and stress balls for therapy, and a diffuser.
“We have so many things like that just so it’s more comforting and welcoming to these victims,” said Guerton. “When they come in, they’re reporting the most terrifying thing that’s ever happened to them. If we’re able to give them a place where they’re a little bit more comfortable to talk to us about it, we certainly want to make sure we’re giving them that space.”
The Minot PD has used the room several times already since it was first installed a few weeks ago according to Guerton.
“It helps with our investigations because the more comfortable a victim is talking to us, the more information they’re likely to provide,” said Guerton.
Project Beloved began exactly a year after a tragic incident in the Matheson home, where Tracy Matheson’s daughter, Molly Jane, was found deceased in her bathroom on April 10, 2017.
“I received a call that my daughter Molly had not shown up for work,” said Matheson. “I got in the car to drive to her garage apartment to see what might be going on. I went inside, she didn’t answer. I went to look around, and she was nowhere to be found. I remembered I hadn’t checked the bathroom, and when I went back inside to look, that’s where I found her body on the floor of the shower.”
At first, the cause of death was unknown to Matheson, knowing that her daughter was a happy, healthy, almost 23-year-old.
“The detectives ruled Molly’s death a homicide,” said Matheson. “She had been strangled, and she had also been raped.”
The Fort Worth Police Department had identified the suspect as Reginald Kimbro, 23 at the time, who Matheson said had been interviewed by many police departments and was a serial rapist and killer, who five days after killing Molly Jane had killed another woman, Megan Getrum, 36 at the time, of Plano, Texas. Prosecutors had accumulated 12 other victims who were prepared to testify at Kimbro’s trial.
“All of that is what fueled my decision that I have to do something,” said Matheson. “We have to become a part of bringing change to a system that so desperately needs it.”
Matheson spoke more about what she calls a trauma-informed interview.
“A trauma-informed interview is not interrogating the victim, who, what, where, when, why,” said Matheson. “Those details are not going to come out easily. They are going to be scattered, and also make the victim feel like they’re being blamed for what happened to them.”
Matheson said what existed previously at the Minot PD with the starker room is not unusual for departments across the nation.
“They all look exactly like what is shown on television,” said Matheson. “That’s the one thing TV does get right is those rooms are cold, stark, and sterile. Someone is being asked to come to a place they probably don’t want to come, to have a conversation they don’t want to have, with a person they don’t want to have it with. By having that soft interview room, hopefully we’re making that a little bit easier, and a little bit more comfortable.”
Matheson said the ultimate goal is to get more evidence to make arrests on those who hurt these victims.
The Minot PD contacted Project Beloved in August of 2021, and just recently received the objects for the installment within the past few weeks. This wait is due to the large number of agencies that request soft interview rooms who are put on a waiting list. The funding required for the objects come through donations from individuals.
Getrum, the woman murdered shortly after Molly Jane, was known to be an artist and photographer, and her artwork is used in the soft interview rooms.
Matheson said for the long-distance rooms, such as the one in Minot, she is not able to make the room herself but provides detailed instructions to those decorating the rooms.
“We’re available for FaceTime if needed. We’re kind of bossy and like to say exactly where things should go,” Matheson laughed.
The soft interview room at the Minot PD marks number 50 for Project Beloved.
Project Beloved has donated items in over 35 states and has installed soft interview rooms in 16.
Matheson said the hope is that every police station in the nation would transform their interview rooms in this way.
“We understand better, we know better, so we need to do better,” said Matheson.