A woman whose rape kit DNA was used to link her to an unrelated property crime has filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco over the incident, which sparked a national outcry earlier this year.
It was revealed in February that the San Francisco police department used the DNA and later dropped the charges against her. Her DNA had been collected and stored in the system as part of a 2016 domestic violence and sexual assault case, then district attorney Chesa Boudin said in February in a shocking revelation that raised privacy concerns.
The revelation prompted a backlash from advocates, law enforcement, legal experts and lawmakers, many of whom warned the practice could affect victims’ willingness to come forward to law enforcement authorities.
“This practice treats victims like evidence, not human beings,” Boudin said at the time. “This is legally and ethically wrong.”
There is no law in California to prohibit local law enforcement databases from retaining victims’ profiles and searching them years later for entirely different purposes, but that could change after state lawmakers last month approved a bill that would prohibit using the DNA profiles collected by police from sexual assault survivors and other victims for any purpose other than aiding in identifying the perpetrator. Local law enforcement agencies would also be prohibited from retaining and then searching victim DNA to incriminate them in unrelated crimes under the legislation, which is pending before governor Gavin Newsom.
The police department’s crime lab stopped the practice shortly after receiving a complaint from the district attorney’s office and formally changed its operating procedure to prevent the misuse of DNA collected from sexual assault victims, said police chief Bill Scott.
Scott said at a police commission meeting in March that he had discovered 17 crime victim profiles, 11 of them from rape kits, that were matched as potential suspects using a crime victims database during unrelated investigations. Scott said he believes the only person arrested was the woman who filed the lawsuit on Monday.
The woman filed the lawsuit under the alias of Jane Doe to protect her privacy, her attorney, Adante Pointer, said in a statement to the Associated Press.
California allows local law enforcement crime labs to operate their own forensic databases that are separate from federal and state databases. The law also lets municipal labs perform forensic analysis, including DNA profiling, and use those databases, without regulation by the state or others.