On Sept. 22, WUFT News reported the University of Florida and Gainesville police departments were collecting fingerprints and DNA evidence from individuals who “look like the attacker” believed to be responsible for at least three assaults on or near the UF campus.
Though legal, UFPD and GPD’s actions have raised questions about the rights of the men who have submitted to questioning and swabbing.
According to legal experts, all of the information and samples gathered is legal because the individuals gave consent.
Jon Mills, UF professor of law, said the issue here is not so much with the collection of the given samples but with the level of coercion involved.
“There’s nothing wrong with voluntarily submitting,” Mills said. “But without an arrest or without a warrant, individuals don’t have to.”
GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said 25 to 30 white males have been interviewed. WUFT News called Tobias on Sept. 25 to ask whether interviewing and collecting DNA were being considered the same thing, but he did not return the calls.
On Sept. 26, Tobias responded via email: “We are not discussing the issue any further.”
Mills said this investigation is not surprising because the police must believe it will lead to an arrest. In that case, there is no reason to not ask for volunteers.
“DNA being taken upon arrest has been validated,” he said. “There are certainly precedent for that kind of thing, and there is, of course, value to using DNA evidence.”
The consent forms the individuals brought in for questioning have signed are important, and Mills believes most of the men will submit simply to free themselves from suspicion.
However, police should disclose whether the samples will be stored, for how long and whether they will remain on the permanent record or used for other reasons. Mills said these are questions worth asking, but ultimately, whether the DNA samples affect these men depends on them.
“If you don’t anticipate committing any crimes in the future, which I hope most of our people don’t, then there is probably no harm.”
GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said GPD has a small piece of DNA to which the collected samples can be compared. He did not disclose from which attack the sample was taken; however, it was not taken from the first of the three incidents.
Leah Harding contributed to this report.