IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

San Francisco police sued after using rape exam kit to link woman to burglary

A lawyer for the woman said her DNA had been "weaponized against her."
A pedestrian walks past San Francisco Police Department headquarters Monday.Jeff Chiu / AP

A sexual assault victim whose DNA was used to identify her as a burglary suspect sued the San Francisco Police Department on Monday, with her lawyer saying the genetic sample she provided to authorities had been “weaponized against her.” 

The woman, identified as Jane Doe in a suit filed in federal court in California’s Northern District, was “re-victimized” by what the suit described as an “unconstitutional” practice used by the police department’s crime lab.

“Sexual assault survivors consent to police to use their DNA for one purpose — to find the perpetrator of the sexual assault,” lawyer Adante Pointer told reporters. “What we have here is our constitutional rights turned on their head.”

After the woman was sexually assaulted six years ago, she provided her DNA to police investigators, according to the lawsuit. 

The sample was placed in what internal crime lab files obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle described as a “quality assurance” database — a system created in 2015 to use in unrelated criminal cases and to eliminate contamination.

Last December, a police lab criminalist ran DNA obtained from the scene of an apparent burglary through the database and found that it matched the woman's DNA, according to the suit.

The criminalist provided a forensic report to a police sergeant, who obtained an arrest warrant for the woman based largely on the DNA match, according to the lawsuit.

The charges were later dropped, the lawsuit says, and in February former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin called the practice "legally and ethically wrong" and said it may violate the state's Victims' Bill of Rights.

A San Francisco police spokesman declined to comment on Monday's suit.

In February, Police Chief Bill Scott said he believed the department's DNA collection practices conformed with state and national forensic standards. He added that he was launching an immediate investigation.

Days later, the department ended the policy of sharing rape kit DNA outside the crime lab, the Chronicle reported.

Monday's lawsuit claims the database led to “thousands” of cases in which victims’ DNA was used unconstitutionally. It isn’t clear whether there were other arrests.

In April, California legislators proposed a measure that would ban the practice across the state. It wasn't clear whether other departments maintain similar databases. According to the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for digital civil liberties, local agencies that collect and maintain DNA aren’t subject to the same strict laws and regulations as federal and state authorities.