The latest salvo in the public-relations war between the San Francisco Police Department and the office of District Attorney Chesa Boudin is also a highly troubling potential breach of a sexual assault victim's privacy.
Boudin on Monday made public an allegation that the SFPD crime lab had used DNA collected from a female victim in a rape kit and subsequently kept in a database to link the woman to a recent property crime.
The case against the woman in the property crime was presented to the DA's Office last week, and prosecutors realized the DNA profile used to link her to the crime had come from the rape kit evidence that was years old. Boudin said his office was now investigating whether the practice of using that DNA, without victims' consent, to link them to later crimes was widespread in the department.
“The primary concern that I and my office have ... is with detecting and preventing future crime,” Boudin said in a statement. “We want San Francisco to be as safe as possible, (and) we want survivors of sexual assault to feel comfortable and safe reporting and cooperating with law enforcement.”
Boudin says that such use of an assault victim's DNA, submitted in order to help prosecute a rapist, without their consent in the prosecution of a later case against them, raises significant ethical and legal issues — and likely represents a violation of California's Victims' Bill of Rights.
The Chronicle reached out to SFPD Chief Bill Scott for comment, and he only said, "I think the questions raised by our District Attorney today are sufficiently concerning that I have asked my Assistant Chief for Operations to work with our Investigations Bureau to thoroughly review the matter, and report back to me and to our D.A.’s office partners." Scott added, "We must never create disincentives for crime victims to cooperate with police."
Details about the felony case against the woman were not revealed in Boudin's press statements out of privacy concerns. But it seems the SFPD obtained their arrest warrant with use of the older DNA evidence.
SF Supervisor Hillary Ronen, having just heard about this probable misuse of DNA evidence from a rape kit, tells the Chronicle that she has already submitted a request to the City Attorney's Office to draft legislation that would prevent this in future — and perhaps to prevent all victims' DNA from being entered into a database at all.
Boudin said he was not sure whether there might be anything in the waivers signed at the time that rape-kit evidence is collected that would allow this practice. But, he tells the Chronicle, "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."