Rape survivor at center of SFPD DNA lab scandal: "I feel violated again"
SAN FRANCISCO - A sexual assault survivor whose rape kit DNA was used by San Francisco police to identify her in a property crime told KTVU Thursday that she feels "violated again" by the police department.
The woman, who KTVU is not naming because she is a rape victim, is at the center of a growing controversy in San Francisco's crime lab that's received national attention.
Revelations about the practice prompted a swift reaction from District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who dropped the charges against the woman. Police Chief Bill Scott said he's reviewed the crime lab's policies and put safeguards in place to make sure it never happens again.
READ: Use of rape-kit DNA in San Francisco to probe other crimes shocks prosecutors
But the woman whose DNA was used, said the ordeal has eroded any trust she has of law enforcement and is still traumatized.
"I didn’t know that it would be used against me," she said in an interview with KTVU. "I didn’t know that that could happen. I didn’t know that was even possible. I just feel violated again."
The woman was sexually assaulted in 2016 and voluntarily submitted to a sexual assault examination – or rape kit – in order to collect evidence of the attack. Then last year, a warrant was put out for her arrest after police obtained her DNA from the scene of a property crime. KTVU is not disclosing the criminal case because it could identify the woman.
Police and the district attorney's office said investigators identified her through her DNA that she submitted after being raped six years ago.
"It was a slap in the face," she said. "It's just unbelievable. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around this right now. It’s just not a good feeling."
READ: DA: San Francisco police used rape kit DNA to arrest victim
She now has an attorney who filed a legal claim – which is a precursor to a lawsuit – against the city and county of San Francisco on Thursday.
"This is a very serious and egregious violation of not only our personal rights but our constitutional rights," said Adante Pointer, the woman's attorney.
The San Francisco city attorney's office issued a statement about the claim on Thursday.
"The city is committed to supporting and protecting victims of crime. We will assess the claim and respond appropriately," city attorney spokeswoman Jen Kwart said in the statement.
San Francisco police Chief Bill Scott said at last week’s police commission meeting that he made sure victim DNA would no longer be used to identify criminal suspects. He and lab director Mark Powell explained that the practice happened through a number of decisions that no one apparently thought to second guess.
It began in 2015 when the crime lab created a "quality assurance" database containing thousands of DNA profiles from workers, visitors and any other samples they analyzed in the lab – like rape kits.
Technicians would run samples of unknown criminal suspect though the database -- to rule out contamination -- before running the clean sample through the Combined DNA Index System – a national criminal database commonly called CODIS.
But lab workers occasionally got hits in the "quality assurance" database that were too old to be from contamination in the lab – and they still reported those people's identities to investigators.
The chief said he’s discovered 17 profiles that were matched in the database -- 11 of which were from rape kits.
He said at last week’s police commission meeting that he doesn’t believe any of those cases led to an arrest, except for the woman whose case blew up into a national scandal.
"We own this error. We own it," Scott said. "And we will make sure this won’t happen ever again with the guard rails that have been put in place."
Earlier this week, Boudin sponsored statewide legislation by state Sen. Scott Wiener that would bar any California crime lab from keeping rape kit DNA in a database that’s unrelated to the sexual assault.
READ: California leaders introduce legislation to ban police from using rape kit DNA to probe other crimes
Even with the latest efforts to protect survivors, the woman said she will still have trouble trusting law enforcement in the future.
"It’s always been hard to trust San Francisco Police Department, but that just put the icing on the cake and just made me feel like I don’t have support out here," she said.
Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky