Class Action Suit Over DNA Testing

In early 2004, hundreds of black men were persuaded to submit to DNA testing in the years-old hunt for the serial rapist, told that they could eliminate themselves from the suspect pool (which consisted of all black men in Charlottesville) if they did so. The ensuing controversy made national news in April, leading to the suspension of the dragnet by Chief Timothy Longo. All of this resulted in Larry Monroe filing a $15,000 lawsuit against Detective James Mooney in July of last year, citing harassment. Monroe looks absolutely nothing like the description of the rapist, other than being a black man. The suit was dismissed.

Now Monroe has filed a class-action lawsuit against the detective, the police department, and the city, John Yellig writes in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Monroe alleges violations of his constitutional rights, including the 14th (equal protection) and 4th (unlawful search and seizure) amendments. Once again, only $15,000 in damages is sought. A particularly interesting bit of the lawsuit is the allegation that a report was filed within the police department regarding anybody who refused to submit to the DNA test — it’s not known what the purpose of those reports were, or what’s become of them.

14 thoughts on “Class Action Suit Over DNA Testing”

  1. It seems to me that we are putting our priorities in the wrong place. The whole community should be concerned about a serial rapist. If that means submitting to a DNA test to clear yourself, so be it. If we put to many restrictions on the police, they won’t be able to do their jobs, and the criminals will have the uppur hand. A DNA test, oh what a terrible hardship to have to endure.

  2. What happened to concepts like burden of proof on the procecution, due process and privacy. Quick – prove you’ve never committed a crime.

    Let’s test putting our priorities in place:

    Let’s really make the police job easier – require every individual’s DNA, finger prints, pictures and current addresses be registered from the day they are born and ever year after that.

    Let’s use cameras for uniform coverage or the city, implant id chips in each individual which are picked up by the camera so every move is traced.

    Cases like this are good for the country. There are limits on police behavior, the city police DNA sweep seems to have exceeded them, some tested individuals didn’t match suspect descriptions. Using the courts to figure out what the limits are, and if the public doesn’t like the results use legislation or constitutional ammendment to refine our definitions is a good thing.

    Granting absolute power to the police is an option – it just isn’t currently consistent with state law or the constitution.

  3. If I remember correctly, the DNA testing was offered, not required. Nobody was compelled to be tested, but those who did would be eliminated from the suspect pool. Those who declined weren’t all of a sudden thrust into the #1 suspect slot – they just weren’t eliminated. As for the description, eyewitness descriptions are notoriously inaccurate, while DNA rarely is. When was the last time you saw a composite drawing that looked anything like the person eventually caught and convicted?

    I saw this as the police basically saying “Hey, we’re stumped. We have a very large pool of suspects, and we need to narrow our focus. We’re asking the community to help. Anybody who agrees to be tested will eliminate themselves as a suspect, and allow us to focus our attention on fewer possible suspects.” I find it hard to believe that anybody who declined to be tested would find themseleves in legal peril on that basis alone.

    This wasn’t a case of racial profiling. According to every account, the serial rapist is an African American. Anytime I hear “racism” with something like this, I apply the “what if the shoe was on the other foot” test. If the serial rapist were White, and White males were being asked to voluntarily submit to DNA testing this would be a total non-issue.

    Wondering aloud: Is there something inherently bad in making the police’s job easier?

  4. If the serial rapist were White, and White males were being asked to voluntarily submit to DNA testing this would be a total non-issue.

    Wanna bet? I’m white and I promise you, if I was “asked” to submit to this kind of random testing, I’d make it an issue. And, I have a feeling I’m not the only one. Sorry, but this fails the “other foot test”.

  5. This is fantastic news. There are a few issues here that need to be addressed, concerning our Barney Fife Police Department:

    Casey: We do not use dragnets in this country – police are not free to go on fishing expeditions – as hoome points out, why stop at collecting DNA, fingerprinting, etc. We do not live in a police state (for the moment) under constant surveillance, in spite of what is being attempted at the national level with the NSA and Patriot Act. I don’t know if you’ve ever visited some place like that – but it’s very unpleasant and quite creepy. Our freedom to be individuals comes from living in a free environment where we are not “watched” all the time. This is precisely what the Soviet Union and Easter Block countries were all about – do we really want to convert the country into a totalitarian state?

    Big_Al: The trouble with our police department is that their suspect pool “set” is essentially the set of all black men in or near Charlottesville…if they had some reasonable subset which included say 10-20 individuals who lived or worked, or travelled near all of the rape sites, or had some other circumstantial evidence (other than being black) linking them to all of the crime scenes, then asking them to volunteer for a DNA test to eliminate themselves is reasonable. BUT, even then, given the desire of the state to collect a database of DNA for everyone ever arrested, I’d personally be leery of giving them the information in this context. It is entirely possible to leave DNA, just like fingerprints, all over the place quite innocently, including places where a crime may later take place.

    We don’t need to make it any easier on our police department – they are actually paid to do these investigations – they can earn their money. Just because they seem to be incredibly bad at it is no reason to lower the bar and make their “job easier.” They have a remarkable propensity for taking very easy shortcuts/answers when available (this is a natural human tendency we all share) but for then giving up pretty quickly. Just ask the young man who almost wound up being tried as the serial rapist until he was exonerated via DNA – the police were all too happy to tag him as the guy due to a bad witness ID (not retracted after the DNA evidence came out) after snatching him off the street on nothing more than being a black pedestrian! Harry is aboslutely right – if the police asked all white men to give DNA to exonerate themselves, then the uproar would have been a lot bigger and happened a lot sooner. But, of course, Longo knows that and would never contemplate such a thing – not that he’s racist at all (I think he’s a pretty fair guy from what I see in the media) – but he’s not stupid.

    Now, where are we, year 4 of this search? Gee, they’re really doing an effective job. I’m sure as the pressure mounts to come up with results, they’ll continue to be even more careful about how they respond. And, I see in today’s Daily Progress that they can’t even be bothered to get out there to write traffic enforcement tickets: they’re pushing for red-light cameras.

  6. My apologies, that should read

    “not retracted until after the DNA evidence came out”

  7. Voluntary, random DNA testing in order to eliminate suspects makes no sense whatsoever as it is generally argued by police. Are you going to test every male in a population of over 50,000 people? No way. You won’t even get close to a statistically significant number. The guilty man will just refuse to offer a sample and there are so many innocent people who refuse for their own sound reasons that he will be lost among them. This random process of elimination will not work.

    However, random voluntary DNA testing starts to make a lot of sense when you consider that it can generate a ‘hit’ on family members. You might not be the serial rapist, but an uncle or brother who refused the test might be. This was part of the process that helped police to nab the BTK killer.

    Police need to start making this argument rather than the BS one that they have been spouting. Random DNA testing is not about a process of elimination where eventually you’ve tested everyone in a population except the perpetrator. It’s about looking for an innocent person who is related to the killer and can help police fingure out which relative that might be.

    If police would start making this clear AND we have iron-clad legal requirements with proper oversight making sure that the DNA records are destroyed after being screened then I think the public will become a lot more willing to cooperate. I know that I will.

  8. I think my comment was based on the idea that the suit claims the police were askingBlacks to be tested based on racial profiling. “Racial profiling” is a term that is very incendiary and triggers alarm for a lot of valid reasons. However, in a case where EVERY victim says the assailaint is Black, it’s not the police who are doing the racial profiling. The police didn’t ask people to contribute DNA samples becuase THEY’RE Black, but because the rapist is.

    According to the article, the suit is based on “The policy of asking Monroe and other black men to provide their DNA for tests violates their constitutional right to equal protection because the same policy wasn’t applied to all white men after unsolved sexual assaults made by white assailants.” This presumes that the police can only use previously-used investigative strategies and tactics. As DNA testing techniques advance, there are going to be many new ways to investigate crime – are the police not supposed to use them for the first time on a minority if they haven’t already used them on a non-minority?

    HOWEVER, the idea that the guy filing the suit is 5-8 and 300 pounds does make it pretty unlikely that he’s the rapist, who has been described as 6-feet tall and fit. That seems like a poor police judgment call.

    While “if the shoe was on the other foot” and the suspect were White there may be some people who would be enraged if asked to submit to testing, I think society as a whole and the media in general would likely have no issue with it.

    Does the fact that a major crime is unsolved make a police department incompetent? I would hazard to guess that every city of this size and larger has its share of unsolved, open cases. Sometimes criminals are lucky, and sometimes they’re smart enough or employ unusual methods to avoid identification. Serial killers and serial rapists become “serial” because of that.

  9. While “if the shoe was on the other foot” and the suspect were White there may be some people who would be enraged if asked to submit to testing, I think society as a whole and the media in general would likely have no issue with it.

    I’d say you’re right on the money there. Most folks would have no problem with this kind of action. That’s exactly why we have the Bill of Rights as part of our Constitution – to protect individuals against the oppression of the government, even when “society as a whole” favors an action. And, that’s why I’m so grateful to live in this country.

  10. I hope he wins his lawsuit. In my opinion the police were wrong to proceed as they did. It was lazy police work. With no new leads, and most likely none on the horizion, someone in their organization decided it would be a good idea to go ask black men for DNA samples.

    As someone who’s big on privacy rights, I would never volunteer a DNA sample of mine. Like any other evidence they might want, I’d wait until they had probable cause and a court order. I don’t commit crimes so that’s not likely to happen. But I’m still not going to be volunteering to give away my privacy rights.

    What they did is no different then them (the police) going house to house in your neighborhood asking you (the resident) if they (the police) could search your house because the murderer also drove a Toyota, and you have a Toyota too.

  11. so, was anyone ever actually threatened with reprisal for not submitting to this “voluntary” sampling? b/c if they weren’t i don’t see any instance where someone’s rights were violated. maybe they felt bullied, but they didn’t get tossed in the slammer for saying “no”.

    i’m sure anyone who sues the police over this thing will win, b/c the city will just be eager to sweep it under the rug. i wish i could sue the CPD for wasting my tax money on such an idiotic scheme.

  12. And we have the Barney Fife police dept. However if these folks weren’t FORCED to have a DNA test then I am not sure how anyone could be sued. But the idea of it is quite disgusting. And people say there is no racism in Charlottesville? Give me a friggin’ break.

  13. so, was anyone ever actually threatened with reprisal for not submitting to this “voluntary” sampling? b/c if they weren’t i don’t see any instance where someone’s rights were violated. maybe they felt bullied, but they didn’t get tossed in the slammer for saying “no”.

    Well, as a matter of fact, yes! The statement, “you can voluntarily eliminate yourself from the suspect pool by submitting a sample” in this context is very much an implied threat: you are and will continue to be a suspect unless you do this. You or I (I’m white) might laugh off such a threat, or not even perceive one, but a young black man who lives in Charlottesville would see this very differently. Again, look at what happened to the guy who worked at the barber shop and was plucked off the street by the police so that another victim could provide “eyewitness identification”, and subsequently spent the next four days in jail based on that false/bad identification (he is also suing), until DNA evidence exonerated him. If I were black and lived here, I would not consider this very voluntary – I’d consider it a warning that the police were putting me on notice they might arrest me for this crime unless I submitted to the DNA dragnet.

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