A woman sued the city of San Francisco on Monday 12 September 2022 after she was arrested for an unrelated crime using the DNA that she had provided through a rape kit back in 2016 during an investigation into her sexual assault.
The anonymous woman, referred to as Jane Doe, filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) had committed an “unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”
Speaking to The New York Times, Doe’s attorney Adante Pointer explained that the DNA used by the police five years after her assault in order to charge her with retail theft had been entered into a database without his client’s consent or knowledge.
According to the publication, this specific event is not the only time the SFPD has abused a victim of sexual assault’s constitutional rights. “The exchange is you’re going to use this DNA for a specific purpose, which is to prosecute the person who violated me,” Pointer said. “And instead, the police turned into the violators here.”
But it was only following the investigation into the woman’s case earlier in 2022 that the use of the DNA database became publicly known. The city district attorney at the time, Chesa Boudin, chose not to prosecute Doe.
Sexual assault survivors had been used “like evidence, not human beings,” he told the press during a news conference in February.
Following the woman’s arrest and how it shed light on the police misconduct occurring within the SFPD, the city’s Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance this year that prohibits them from identifying suspects by using DNA from a rape kit.
And it seems like it helped spread awareness and lead to action being taken in other parts of the US too—with California lawmakers voting through a bill that would prohibit the same practice in August. As Wright State University professor Dan Krane in Dayton, Ohio, told The New York Times, while federal law forbids rape victims’ DNA from being put into the country’s national Combined DNA Index System, local versions of that law are almost non-existent, meaning that each state can pretty much do as it pleases with its own local database.
Krane said most law enforcement departments act like “stamp collectors” when gathering DNA.
As for Doe’s lawsuit against San Francisco, it’s currently unclear what kind of damages are sought. As first reported by The Independent, a city attorney spokesperson said in a statement that 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, we will review the complaint and respond appropriately,” the spokesperson added.
A harrowing report by BBC Northern Ireland (NI) has brought to light the details of allegations that two police officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had manipulated a suicide victim’s body, photographing them and later sharing the images and videos online. Though the incident itself is said to have occurred in 2017, it has only now found itself in the spotlight with full disclosure.
The family of the victim in question spoke to BBC NI Spotlight on the horrific discovery of their loved one’s abuse by the two officers who were called to the scene when the body was found in 2017. The father of the deceased male told the news outlet that he was first informed of the allegations 18 months after the death of his son—and was told to keep quiet on the details.
“They informed me that two police officers had been questioned regarding my son and photographs that might have been taken of my son,” he told BBC NI Spotlight. The family were told that “it was a very serious affair and we weren’t to discuss it.” Details, like the fact that the victim’s genitals had been exposed in the photographs, were “drip-fed” to the family, as per the BBC’s report.
The sister of the deceased told the publication that the two police officers had also reportedly moved her brother’s body around the room (in which he was found) into various positions and poses for pictures and videos. The family were also informed that additional edits/stickers were added to the imagery such as “an exclamation bubble coming out of my brother’s mouth making fun of the way that he was.”
The Photoshopped speech bubbles were part of the images that were shared on social media, among the pictures of his exposed genitalia, and involved what the sister believed was the word “taig”—a derogatory term for Catholics. She told BBC NI Spotlight that she could not fathom how or why anyone would be as heartless to mock a victim of suicide.
Unsurprisingly, the father stated that he is “physically sick to this day” over the accusations against the officers—haunted by the thought that these actions were happening while he was in the house. “Those police officers were in the house while I was there—asked me to leave the room—and I done everything they asked me to at the time,” he continued. “And all that keeps coming back to me is why did I leave the room, because that must have been when they done it, when they took the photographs.”
This particular case surfaced as part of a “much broader and more complex case encompassing investigations into 11 separate and related incidents” of police misconduct “spanning several years,” said NI’s Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson. One of the officers being questioned has been suspended during the length of the investigation on full pay, as per BBC NI Spotlight. The family’s lawyer, Pádraig Ó Muirigh, has also queried this decision.
In an inquiry that has lasted an “unacceptable” five years, “I think the family and the wider public has a right to know why someone has been suspended so long on full pay,” Ó Muirigh added. This case seems just the latest in a long line of examples of serious and gross misconduct by police officers across the UK. Not only does the case of Sarah Everard obviously come to mind but the family’s lawyer cited the very similar incident of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in June 2021—on discovery of their bodies, Met Police took images of the women and shared them on WhatsApp groups.
One such message of the sisters read: “Unfortunately I’m sat next to two dead birds with stab wounds.” The constables in question have each been jailed for 33 months. The suicide victim’s sister has since told the BBC that following the handling of her brother’s case, she had lost faith in the PSNI going forward. “I couldn’t even lift the phone and dial 999 now if I was in an emergency. I wouldn’t want them near me or my family because they can’t be trusted.”