SF ordinance calls for faster DNA testing
by Seth Hemmelgarn
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently passed an ordinance calling for DNA from sexual assault cases to be tested within two weeks of collection.
San Francisco Police Commissioner Jim Hammer said he raised the issue with Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, inspired by the case of Rudy "Ruby" Ordenana, a transgender woman who was found dead in 2007. He helped Alioto-Pier write the legislation, of which Supervisor Carmen Chu eventually became a co-sponsor.
DNA that had been recovered in the Ordenana case hadn't been processed until nearly two years later. The evidence was matched with Donzell Francis, 42, whom law enforcement officials suspect went on to assault three transgender women after allegedly killing Ordenana.
The openly gay Hammer, a former prosecutor in the district attorney's office, said "there's no doubt in my mind" Francis, who pleaded not guilty in April 2010 to the forcible sodomy and murder of Ordenana, wouldn't have been able to attack anyone else if the DNA had been tested sooner.
He said Ordenana's case is just one example, and in recent years there "have been a number of cases where DNA evidence in sexual assault cases has not been tested in a timely matter."
Bill Barnes, an aide to Alioto-Pier, said her intent was to "prevent future assaults, and get justice for victims."
The ordinance requires that by March 1, Police Chief George Gascón establish a goal of collecting a DNA rape kit from a health care provider within three days of notification and testing DNA evidence obtained from a health care provider within two weeks of receiving it, among other provisions.
The ordinance, which the 11-member board passed unanimously, was first read December 7 and finally passed December 14.
Hammer said people who have been sexually assaulted can help speed up the process, too.
"If someone has been a victim of sexual assault in the LGBT community, they really should come forward as quickly as possible." He said that with the state's database and DNA technology, even if the attacker is unknown, if evidence is tested soon enough, there's a "real possibility of getting serial rapists off the streets before they rape again. It's that simple."
Hammer said if rape victims can be told with certainty that DNA evidence in their case will be tested in a timely manner and results will be available quickly, the chances of them cooperating in the prosecution "go way up," and with that, the chances of a successful prosecution increase.
The ordinance also requires the city to appropriate sufficient funds each fiscal year to ensure timely testing of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases.
The legislation might not cost any more than what's being done already, said Hammer, because it won't necessarily mean more testing, "it's just going to be on a faster timeline."
In response to an e-mailed request for comment, Lieutenant Lyn Tomioka, a San Francisco police spokeswoman, wrote, "Over the next few months we will be developing realistic goals which will provide the best case management platform for our DNA lab. We were already in the process of looking for more qualified criminalists, so we may need to look at hiring additional people."
In December 2009, a jury found Francis guilty of charges including forcible oral copulation and robbery of a transgender woman. He was sentenced in January 2010 to 17 years and eight months in state prison for that case, which also stemmed from 2007.
Francis is currently in custody in San Francisco County jail. The next hearing in the Ordenana case is set for January 28, to set a date for the preliminary hearing.