Woman Sues San Francisco After Police Used Rape Kit DNA to Arrest Her

“What we have here is our constitutional rights turned on their head,” the woman’s lawyer told reporters.

Woman Sues San Francisco After Police Used Rape Kit DNA to Arrest Her
A pedestrian walks in front of a San Francisco Police Department advertisement. Photo:AP

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Police Department used the DNA from a woman’s rape kit, collected after her sexual assault six years ago, to arrest her for an unrelated crime. On Monday, the woman sued the city of San Francisco in federal court, with her lawyer arguing her rape kit was “weaponized against her.”

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

According to the lawsuit, where the woman is identified as Jane Doe, she was “re-victimized” by the “unconstitutional” act committed by the SFPD’s crime lab. After the assault, Doe’s sample was filed in the internal crime lab’s “quality assurance” database, a system that the San Francisco Chronicle reports was created in 2015 for DNA access to assist with unrelated criminal cases, among other purposes. In December, according to Doe’s suit, police ran DNA obtained from the scene of an alleged burglary through the database and found a match with Doe’s DNA, resulting in her arrest.

Attorneys Adanté Pointer, left, and Patrick Buelna, speak during a news conference announcing their client’s lawsuit against the city of San Francisco Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. Photo:AP

Charges against Doe were eventually dropped following the massive backlash against the case in February. Then-San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin called this use of Doe’s rape kit “legally and ethically wrong” and declined to prosecute. He added, “Even if it were mentioned somewhere in the fine print, is that an appropriate waiver to seek from a victim who’s just come in and reported a sex assault? Absolutely not.” (Boudin was later recalled by voters in June, following a conservative opposition campaign that alleged he was “soft” on crime.) But, even more concerning, Doe’s suit claims that the database that led to her arrest has also led to “thousands” of cases of victims’ DNA being used unconstitutionally.

Back in February, Police Chief Bill Scott argued his department had done nothing wrong and its DNA collection practices followed legal forensic standards. However, that same month, the department ultimately ended its policy of sharing rape kit DNA samples outside the crime lab.

Scott said at a police commission meeting in March that he had discovered 17 crime victim profiles—11 from rape kits—that were matched as possible suspects in unrelated crimes, using a crime victims database. Though he believes the only person actually arrested was Doe.

Scott and representatives from the SFPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Jezebel. The office of London Breed, San Francisco’s mayor, told Jezebel that it’s “unable to comment as this is pending litigation.” Jen Kwart, the Director of Communications & Media Relations for the city attorney’s office, sent the following statement:

“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. Once we are served with the lawsuit, we will review the complaint and respond appropriately.”

Prior to Doe’s suit, her case sparked national outrage and action from lawmakers. House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) wrote a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray in February calling on Wray to clarify federal laws around the use of DNA from rape kits and disclose how often cases like Doe’s happen. California state lawmakers introduced a measure to ban the practice across the state.

Citing his client’s identity as a Black woman, Pointer told the New York Post that her case adds to the “long history of distrust” that people of color have with law enforcement, “for all good reasons.” Pointer said Doe’s case “has implications beyond race,” but the incident was “another affront to the community.”

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