Daily News: Top city council member challenges jogger slay probe DNA swab campaign exposed by The News

City Councilmen Rory Lancman (left) and Donovan Richards are pictured in Daily News file photos. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)

City Councilmen Rory Lancman (left) and Donovan Richards are pictured in Daily News file photos. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)

By Graham Rayman
May 10, 2019

No one should be considered a criminal suspect just because of their skin color or where they live, says a City Council member who is challenging how detectives investigated the slaying of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano.

Council member Donovan Richards — who chairs the committee that oversees the NYPD — said Friday he was outraged at a Daily News report that revealed the stories of men approached by detectives demanding DNA samples during the murder probe.

“It’s so baffling to try to understand how, just because of your complexion, just because of your geography, that you are automatically a suspect in a crime,” Richards said.

Police are not forthcoming about how often they take a similar approach in other cases, Richards said.

“There’s no transparency,” he said. “We don’t know how often these dragnets occur. But I can guarantee that if we look, a large number are happening in black and brown neighborhoods. I think the public should be outraged. This is genetic stop and frisk.”

DNA from the scene of Vetrano’s August 2016 slaying pointed toward a black man as her killer, sources told The News.

That led then-chief of detectives Robert Boyce to order a campaign that collected DNA swabs from 360 black and Hispanic men previously arrested in the neighborhood.

The swabbing campaign proved no help to the probe — Chanel Lewis, 22, was convicted of the killing in April. His arrest came from a cop’s hunch. Lewis confessed, and his DNA matched evidence at the scene. His lawyers plan an appeal.

Police have declined to comment on the swab campaign, citing Lewis’ likely appeal. The department has said its gathering of DNA evidence is lawful.

The Queens District Attorney issued a statement standing by the investigation that led to Lewis’ arrest.

Richards, whose district covers parts of southeastern Queens, wants the city to end such dragnets of potential suspects.

“I want to hear how the police commissioner and the mayor are going to correct this practice and ensure that innocent black men in America are not getting their DNA dragged into the system,” he said. “Where’s the apology to hundreds of black men?”

He is backed by Council member Rory Lancman, who is running for Queens DA. Lancman says he is worried that the DNA samples collected during the Vetrano probe are stored in a law enforcement database. “It seems rife for potential abuse,” Lancman said.

While state law requires only the DNA of convicted people can be taken, the Legal Aid Society has said the city’s database has the DNA of minors and people merely arrested, but not convicted, according to Terri Rosenblatt of the society’s DNA Unit.

“The local database was not authorized by the law; it’s not something the voters approved,” she said. “New York City has built a shadow DNA index that has no meaningful regulation.”