San Francisco woman petitions Supreme Court over botched rape investigation

A woman who says San Francisco police botched the investigation into her sexual assault is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider her case after two lower courts ruled against her.

She says because police didn't process her rape kit properly she was denied equal protection under the law. Heather Marlowe and her attorney are asking the highest court in the land to allow her lawsuit against San Francisco police and city officials to proceed.

It all stems from Marlowe's initial report to police in 2010 that she had been drugged at the Bay to Breakers race and was later raped. She said she submitted to a sexual assault examination but police delayed and bungled the process so badly the results to this day are inconclusive. 

A suspect in Marlowe's rape has never been identified.

At the time of the assault, Marlowe says San Francisco police had more than 1,000 rape kits that weren't processed in a timely fashion. 

"They were put in, they were found in off-site storage facilities," she said. "In warehouses, stuffed into cop cars."

Marlowe filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2016 saying her rape kit languished in police custody for more than two years. The suit states that San Francisco police have a practice of failing to properly investigate sexual assaults.

The judge in that case dismissed the suit and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

Marlowe and her attorney say they want their day in court. 

"So, we are asking the Supreme Court to reverse the 9th Circuit in this case and allow it to go forward," said attorney Becky James.

The San Francisco City Attorney's Office issued a statement saying rape is a heinous crime and that it's unfortunate that no suspects have been identified in Marlowe's case.

It went on to say that it will defend the city from what it calls "meritless" lawsuits, "every court that has looked at this lawsuit has agreed that City employees did not violate Ms. Marlowe’s constitutional rights. They tried to help her."

For its part, the San Francisco Police Department points to a July 10 saying that the department does not currently have a backlog. 

SFPD says the average turnaround time for sexual assault examination kits is now 38 days.

The US Supreme Court is expected to consider whether to take up the case in October.