The lawsuit suggests that the NYPD maintains an unregulated “database” of suspects’ DNA–even if the charges against them were dropped.
A federal class action lawsuit accuses the New York Police Department of illegally harvesting suspects’ DNA samples, which are then stored in an unregulated database “in perpetuity.”
According to ABC News, the database turns thousands of people into “permanent criminal suspects,” whose DNA can be checked even if they are acquitted or charges against them are dropped.
The database houses DNA samples from an estimated 32,000 people, most of whom are Black or Latino.
In some instances, law enforcement appear to have harvested DNA samples with little cause.
Lead plaintiff Shakira Leslie, for instance, was 23 years old when she was arrested after leaving a cousin’s birthday party.
Police had initiated a traffic stop and discovered that one of the other occupants had an unlicensed firearm; everyone inside the vehicle was detained.
Once she was taken into the local precinct office, Leslie says that she was denied food and water for 12 hours. When officers finally offered her a cup of water, she drank it without hesitation.
Even though Leslie was released and the charges against her dropped, the New York Police Department still collected her cup from the trash and took her DNA from the rim.
“Ms. Leslie never offered, and was never asked for, her consent to have her DNA taken,” the lawsuit states. “And the NYPD did not obtain a warrant or court order before secretly taking her DNA and sending the sample to [the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner] to perform DNA testing.”
According to the lawsuit, the New York Police Department routinely offers criminal suspects food, beverages, cigarettes, and chewing gum.
Once the suspect finishes their item, its remains are gathered and entered into a so-called “suspect index.”
The suspect index, says ABC News, puts people’s DNA profiles through a “genetic lineup that compares the profiles against all past and future crime scene evidence—all without obtaining a warrant or court order to conduct these DNA searches.”
An attorney with the Legal Aid Society, which helped file the lawsuit, said that the “suspect index” has racial undertones.
“Thousands of New Yorkers, most of whom are Black and brown, and many of whom have never been convicted of any crime, are illegally in the City’s rogue DNA database, which treats people as suspects in every crime involving DNA,” Legal Aid Society attorney Phil Desgranges said in a lawsuit. “We simply cannot trust the NYPD to police itself, and we look forward to judicial review of these destructive practices to bring our clients the justice they deserve.”