Legal Aid Society suing New York City over what it says are illegal DNA searches


NEW YORK — A lawsuit against the city claims police officers are illegally completing DNA searches, taking DNA without people’s consent and storing it in a database.

The Legal Aid Society, which filed the suit, says it often happens when the police officer gives a simple offer during questioning of a suspect, CBS2’s Christina Fan reported Tuesday.

The offering comes in the form of a cigarette, water, or even gum.

Interrogation videos show the NYPD giving those questioned something to drink or eat, then surreptitiously collecting the item for genetic evidence.

The Legal Aid Society is suing to stop the practice, alleging thousands of innocent New Yorkers, including children, have had their DNA entered illegally into a suspect index.

When asked if he thinks there are a lot of New Yorkers out there who are unaware their DNA is in the system, the Legal Aid Society’s Dave Pollack said, “No question. No question.”

The federal class action lawsuit filed this week alleges the city, NYPD, and chief medical examiner are violating the Fourth Amendment by seizing and storing the DNA of over 31,000 people without a warrant or court order.

“This database has no oversight whatsoever. It’s essentially a rogue database they unilaterally set up and then they have set up their own criteria for who and when they remove someone from it,” the Legal Aid Society’s Lisa Freeman said.

But the NYPD maintains the database is an effective crime-fighting tool.

According to sources, an overwhelming majority of the samples extracted led to convictions. About 2,000 people were never convicted with a crime.

In a statement, a spokesperson said, “We will review the lawsuit once it is filed. The NYPD’s investigations and tactics, including the collection of DNA, are guided by what is authorized by the law, the wealth of case law from the courts, and the best practices of the law enforcement community. Behind every time the NYPD collects DNA from a suspect in a criminal investigation, there is a crime victim who is suffering and seeking justice. The driving motivation for the NYPD to collect DNA is to legally identify the correct perpetrator, build the strongest case possible for investigators and our partners in the various prosecutor’s offices, and bring closure to victims and their families.”

The NYPD has had to defend its practice before, at a 2020 City Council hearing. Top brass then pledged to purge profiles that were more than two years old that did not provide any hits.

“They have removed some of the samples from the database, but the size of the database continues to grow since that time,” Freeman said.

This week’s lawsuit not only aims to stop the practice, but also to expunge current records and files.


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