A rape victim filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco after police used DNA from her sexual assault case to arrest her for an unrelated crime five years later.
The woman was linked to a burglary in 2021 through her DNA during a search of a San Francisco Police Department crime lab database. But in a shocking announcement, then-District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in February the woman’s DNA was in the system from a 2016 domestic violence and sexual assault case. Boudin dropped the felony property charges against the woman, citing a violation of the woman’s constitutional rights.
The lawsuit, filed Monday under the alias Jane Doe, claims the city violated the her civil rights against unlawful search and seizure. USA TODAY generally does not name sexual assault victims unless they choose to be named.
“This practice must be stopped,” the woman’s attorney, Adante Pointer, said in a statement. “This is government overreach of the highest order, using the most unique and personal thing we have – our genetic code – without our knowledge to try and connect us to crime.”
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Federal law prohibits including victims’ DNA in the national Combined DNA Index System, but California’s local police departments aren’t barred from retaining and reusing victims’ DNA for different purposes later.
A California bill awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature would prohibit using DNA profiles collected from victims for any purpose other than identifying the perpetrator.
And it’s not only sexual assault survivors whose DNA has been stored by the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab and routinely searched for matches to suspects in criminal cases, USA TODAY previously reported.
For the last seven years, the department’s crime lab has kept all processed DNA –including from victims of violent crimes, child victims, or individuals entirely uninvolved in the crime like roommates and consensual partners – according to Police Chief Bill Scott and a copy of the lab’s standard operating procedures obtained by USA TODAY.
San Francisco has used 17 crime victim profiles, 11 of them from rape kits, to match potential suspects in unrelated investigations using a crime victims database, Scott said at a police commission meeting in March. The police chief said he believes the only person arrested was the woman who filed the lawsuit Monday.
The San Francisco police department’s crime lab has since stopped the practice and formally changed its operating procedures so sexual assault victims’ DNA is no longer misused, according to Scott.
The San Francisco Police Department said Monday it could not comment on pending litigation.
Contributing: Tami Abdollah, USA TODAY; The Associated Press