S.F. Police Chief Balks at Chance to Track Down Pre-2003 Rapists

Friday, June 05, 2015

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón would like to apply for two grants worth $2 million that would fund testing of unexamined rape kits that were collected before 2003, but he needs the police chief to participate.

That isn’t happening. Chief Gregg Suhr said his department just finished clearing a big backlog back to 2003, and is still trying to recover from scandalously bad behavior in the crime lab that put 1,400 criminal cases at risk in March. The police department sent the last of 753 live backlogged kits for DNA testing in December.

The chief noted that the 10-year statute of limitations had passed on the hundreds of cases tied to the rape kits and said the lab’s limited resources should be directed at cases that can still be prosecuted.  

The D.A.’s office disagreed. Any DNA information gleaned from the kits can help tie together other cases that are still alive, help identify serial killers, or be used as prior evidence of a crime in a current case. Although the information might not be admitted as evidence in court, it could be conveyed to a victim.  

Ilse Knecht, with the Joyful Heart Foundation, a national advocacy group for sexual assault survivors, told the Chronicle, “Those kits represent survivors who have done everything that we’ve asked them to do. They’ve reported the crime to law enforcement. They’ve endured a four- to six-hour exam. We owe it to them to test their evidence.”

The police department passed on grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative and the New York City District Attorney’s Office Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination Program. Together, the grants would have lopped up to $1,000 off the $1,500 or so price of each kit.

It’s possible that the lack of cooperation has something to do with the task force Gascón announced in March that would is investigating three scandals at the Police Department. The first involves racist text messages that officers bounced off each other with regularity; the second concerns officers betting on staged jailhouse prisoner fights; and the third is a police lab scandal.

A civilian crime-lab technician and her supervisor―and all their work―came under scrutiny after a screw-up by the tech in a case led to the discovery that both of them had flunked their DNA proficiency tests last year. That disqualified them from processing evidence.

The lab tech first came under suspicion

The 1,400 cases are being reviewed, which is not a modern-day record for the San Francisco lab. In 2010, 1,700 cases were dismissed after a 60-year-old lab technician was accused of skimming significant amounts of cocaine from evidence in multiple cases.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

S.F. Police Chief Rejects Chance to Test Backlog of Rape Evidence (by Emily Green and Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle)

DA Loses $2M in Grant Funds for Rape Kit Backlog When SFPD Won't Sign On (by Jonah Owen Lamb, San Francisco Examiner)

San Francisco District Attorney, Police Chief at Odds over Untested Rape Kits (by Mark Matthews, NBC Bay Area)

Forget CSI: Real-Life Crime Labs Are a Total Mess (by Rebecca Cohen, Mother Jones)

Technician, Boss in SFPD Lab Scandal Flunked DNA Skills Exam (by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle)

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