A sexual assault victim filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging San Francisco Police violated her constitutional rights by relying on DNA taken from her rape kit years ago to arrest her in an unrelated burglary case.
The woman, identified only as “Jane Doe,” alleges that law enforcement officers took her DNA in November 2016 as part of an investigation into her sexual assault. The San Francisco Police Department then, without her consent, put that DNA into a database and has for years tested it against crime scene DNA, according to the lawsuit.
In December 2021, an SFPD employee ran DNA from a burglary crime scene against the database and matched Doe to the crime, the lawsuit states. SFPD sought an arrest warrant for Doe and relied on the DNA match in the warrant, and she was arrested and charged with several burglary-related offenses.
The charges were later dropped, the suit states. Doe argues in the lawsuit against the city and county and several police officials that the use of her DNA represented an unlawful search and seizure and violated her civil rights.
“This case brings to light the San Francisco Police Department’s shocking practice of placing crime victims’ DNA into a permanent database without the victims’ knowledge or consent,” the lawsuit states. “Law enforcement officers test the victims’ DNA for matches in every subsequent criminal investigation in which genetic material is recovered without any reasonable basis to suspect the victims are in any way connected to these completely unrelated crime scenes.”
Civil rights attorney Adanté Pointer, who represents the plaintiff, said in a statement the case was a “clear example of government overreach.”
San Francisco Police declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit.
A spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying they will review the complaint and respond once served with the lawsuit.
“The City is committed to ensuring all victims of crime feel comfortable reporting issues to law enforcement and has taken steps to safeguard victim information,” spokeswoman Jen Kwart said.
The lawsuit comes about seven months after then-San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin accused the police department’s crime lab of using a law enforcement database that includes DNA of rape and sexual assault victims. He criticized the practice as “legally and ethically wrong” and said it could discourage rape and assault victims from coming forward.
“Rapes and sexual assault are violent, dehumanizing, and traumatic,” Boudin said in a statement in February. “I am disturbed that victims who have the courage to undergo an invasive examination to help identify their perpetrators are being treated like criminals rather than supported as crime victims.”
In the wake of Boudin’s disclosure, San Francisco Police implemented changes to the handling of victims’ DNA and were working on permanent policy changes in conjunction with the DA’s office and California’s Department of Justice, Chief Bill Scott said in March.
“When revelations came to our attention about our department’s possible misuse of a DNA profile, I ordered an immediate change to our crime lab practices assuring that it doesn’t happen again,” Scott said in a statement at the time.
Boudin said he had conversations with leadership of the SFPD crime lab that “suggest that this is a routine practice not only in San Francisco but at other crime labs across the state.”
Boudin was recalled as District Attorney in a June primary election and was replaced by Brooke Jenkins.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors in April passed legislation prohibiting police or other city departments from uploading or storing DNA profiles from crime victim reference samples in city DNA databases.