Morning Report: Analysts Say Crime Lab Lowered Standards to Clear Rape Kit Backlog - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Analysts Say Crime Lab Lowered Standards to Clear Rape Kit Backlog

The San Diego Police Department headquarters / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The San Diego Police Department for years argued that a nationwide push to analyze all the rape kits that law enforcement agencies had collected, but never tested, was a waste of resources.

The city’s crime lab manager argued to Voice of San Diego in 2016, for instance, that the San Diego Police Department had already determined that any untested rape kits in its possession were not likely to strengthen the case. A year later, City Attorney Mara Elliott argued SDPD’s stance was wrong, and the City Council budgeted $500,000 to the lab to help clear the backlog of kits.

But five crime lab analysts now say that crime lab management lowered the testing standards for dozens of kits in order to “check a box” to say that the kits were tested, Andrew Keatts reports in a new investigation. (VOSD has agreed to withhold the analysts’ names because they fear retribution.) Meeting minutes of the lab’s biology unit obtained by Voice of San Diego outline the policy change, which was made in March. Instead of testing six swabs from each kit, analysts were told to test just one swab from certain kits, and were told they had no flexibility in which swab they could test, even if the one swab they were assigned to look at didn’t make sense given the nature of the alleged assault. The procedure was limited to old cases that the district attorney declined to prosecute or where an arrest warrant had already been issued.

An SDPD spokesperson acknowledged the crime lab’s change, arguing it was acceptable because the identity of the suspect was already known. He said the lower standard was applied to roughly 40 cases.

But the department has already abandoned the policy. In fact, it appears to have done so just one day after Voice of San Diego first confronted the city about the decision to only test one swab from certain kits. It now says six swabs from all kits will be tested going forward.

“That we were ‘just checking a box’ was mentioned numerous times by numerous people at various levels, both the analyst and supervisor levels, in one-on-one interactions and in meetings,” said one of the crime lab analysts who spoke to Voice of San Diego. “I took that to mean that the only purpose for testing these kits was for accounting purposes, to show that this kit had been on our books, we tested a single swab and that should satisfy any sort of public demand.”

Newsom Signs AB 5 Into Law

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed AB 5, the landmark bill written by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that limits when employers can categorize a worker as an independent contractor.

Newsom said in his signing message that he plans to “convene leaders from the Legislature, the labor movement and the business community to support innovation and a more inclusive economy by stepping in where the federal government has fallen short and granting workers excluded from the National Labor Relations Act the right to organize and collectively bargain.”

While the bill signing is a major win for Gonzalez, the fight isn’t over. Two ballot measure committees formed to combat the legislation raised a staggering $90 million from companies like Uber and Doordash. 

Newsom’s signature on AB 5 means that arguably the two highest-profile new laws of the year both come from San Diego women lawmakers — the other being Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill to limit the circumstances in which police can legally deploy deadly force.

  • In other legislative news, CALmatters reports that Newsom’s treatment of SB 1, a bill written by San Diego Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins to create a legal backstop in case the Trump administration rolls back environmental protections, could create lasting damage between the governor and the Legislature. Newsom has promised to veto the bill.

Trump Concludes Three-Day West Coast Trip With San Diego Visit

President Donald Trump ended a three-day visit in California with a fundraiser at a downtown San Diego hotel and yet another visit to the border wall. 

Upon his arrival at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Miramar before noon on Wednesday, Trump briefly met with Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and Chabad of Poway Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was injured in the deadly Poway synagogue shooting earlier this year. 

Vaus said he gave Trump a “mayor’s medallion” Wednesday to thank him for supporting Poway  residents and shooting victims after the April shooting.

Then the president headed to downtown San Diego, where police and Secret Service agents shut down blocks as Trump made his way to the U.S. Grant Hotel. Hundreds of protestors and the infamous “Baby Trump” balloon set up at nearby Horton Plaza to greet Trump.

When he arrived at the U.S. Grant, Trump held a 2020 campaign fundraiser that multiple news outlets reported was expected to pull in about $4 million for the campaign. 

U-T columnist Michael Smolens reported that all of Trump’s fundraising events, including the one in San Diego, were sold out in advance and that the Trump Victory Fund, a joint committee of the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign, expected to raise close to $15 million during Trump’s California trip.

A mayor’s office spokesman told Smolens that Mayor Kevin Faulconer did not plan to attend the fundraiser just steps away from City Hall.

After the fundraising luncheon, Trump headed to San Diego’s border wall, which he dubbed an “amazing project.” 

North County Report: Another Homeless Food Fight

Oceanside Sanctuary Christian Church has been feeding the hungry for generations, but the church recently got saddled with a code complaint for serving hot meals to the homeless on Tuesday nights.

The city has since asked the church’s pastor to get a business license (with fees waived). The county also took a closer look at the feeding program and determined that the church was exempt from a new state law requiring some local charities to prove they’re using a commercially rated kitchen. Oceanside Sanctuary’s on-site dinners are considered a religious service. 

While the church will continue serving meals, Jesse Marx reports in the North County Report that the battle over the church’s food service underscores an increasing frustration with homelessness and homeless service providers in the area, including Brother Benno’s Center.

Also in the latest North County news roundup: An update on the Democratic Party central committee’s decision not to endorse in the District 3 county supervisors race, a tentative plan to restore inpatient psychiatric services at Tri-City Medical Center and more. 

News Nuggets

  • A proposed November 2020 ballot measure to establish an independent commission overseeing police practices is continuing to move forward. (Times of San Diego)
  • Sidewalk food vendors fear proposed city rules restricting locations they can set up could hurt their businesses. (Union-Tribune)
  • SDG&E is pushing for changes to utility rates, including to create a new rate classification for schools. School administrators have long wearied over energy rate hikes and rate changes that can affect their bottom lines. (Fox 5 San Diego, VOSD)
  • VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan recently spoke with the International Center for Journalists’ podcast about her June trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where she reported on why so many Central American migrants have been fleeing to the U.S. (Srikrishnan’s trip was funded by the International Center for Journalists.)
  • The number of refugees coming to San Diego County reached an eight-month low in August. (Union-Tribune)
  • UC San Diego expects to get the go-ahead this week to open a school of public health. (Union-Tribune)

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.

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