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Legal Aid Society Sues NYC, Charging Illegal DNA Collection

Three years ago, Shakira Leslie was returning from a cousin’s birthday party in the Bronx when officers pulled over her friend’s car for a traffic infraction. Police searched her and found nothing illegal. When a gun was found in another passenger’s bag, everyone in the car was arrested for weapon possession. At a police station,, Leslie waited for more than 12 hours and received only a cup of water. Eventually, she was released, and the charge against her was dropped. weeks later, Leslie learned the police had taken the cup and collected her DNA from it without asking, reports the New York Times. Officials later tested it and used it to determine that she had not handled the gun. “I was shocked, upset. I just felt violated,” said Leslie, 26, a hair stylist. “I completely lost trust for N.Y.P.D.”

Leslie is a plaintiff in a federal class-action lawsuit by the Legal Aid Society, which accuses the city of operating an illegal and unregulated DNA database in violation of state law and constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. The suit calls for DNA profiles that lawyers argue were gathered unlawfully to be expunged and for the database to be shut down. New York law requires a conviction or a court order before someone’s DNA can be stored in the state-run databank. The city’s database, which contains more than 31,800 profiles and is known as the Local DNA Index System, includes DNA from people like Leslie, who have been arrested or questioned but not convicted. The demographics of those in the database are unclear, but they likely reflect arrest patterns in the city, where 75 percent of people arrested over the past decade were Black or Latino.

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