Sunday, October 24, 2004

Police Investigating Rape Seize Aborted Fetus

Cops seize aborted fetus in rape case
By Amy Yarbrough, STAFF WRITER

REDWOOD CITY -- In a rare step for San Mateo County, sheriff's investigators used a search warrant to seize an aborted fetus in hopes of finding out who impregnated a 13-year-old girl.

Authorities took the fetus and the girl's medical records from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Daly City, where she had an abortion Oct. 13, according to the search warrant filed Tuesday in San Mateo County Superior Court. DNA will be extracted from the fetus and used to verify the identity of the father, who is believed to be an adult.

San Mateo County Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Rick Yearman said detectives are investigating the case as statutory rape and have a suspect but hadn't yet arrested him.

The case came to light two weeks ago after the girl, a Millbrae resident, tested positive for chlamydia, and Kaiser employees reported the case to authorities, the affidavit said.

The girl later told investigators that the man gave her a ride and that the two later had sex at a home in East Palo Alto, according to the search warrant.

The case was forwarded to a detective with the Sheriff's Office, who got the search warrant after learning the girl had an abortion scheduled.

Lt. Lisa Williams, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, said the search warrant may sound unusual, "but it does make sense."

Williams said she didn't know of any other cases where investigators had actually seized a fetus. But, she said it's not all that different from using a search warrant to get other samples used in DNA testing.

"A search warrant is common, for instance, if we're going to draw blood," she said.

Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti, who heads the county's sexual assault unit, said her office has dealt with a "handful" of cases where a search warrant was used to obtain fetal tissue.

Guidotti said most have involved an underage girl who has been impregnated by an adult. Generally, they are cases where the victim is planning to have an abortion and consents to testing of the fetal remains.

"Sometimes we have a problem with the clinics who are performing the abortions, who don't want to release the remains to us even though the victim consents," she said. "In those cases we get an anticipatory search warrant so that we have the legal authority to seize the remains for testing, even if the clinic doesn't want us to have them."

But attorney Beth Parker, who represents Planned Parenthood, said there should be no reason why authorities would have problems with a clinic, if a patient allows authorities to see her records.

"It makes no sense," Parker said. "If a clinic gets consent from the patient, they'd release the records."

Parker says these types of cases seem to becoming more prevalent. Most involved a patient who objects or didn't even know police had taken the fetus, which Parker contends is part of the woman's medical records.

"I think it's a very disturbing trend," Parker added. "The question is, why are we seeing more of these?"

Clinics are in a tough situation, Parker said. One the one hand, they are obligated to obey a court order, but they also need to protect patient privacy.

A new California statute offers some protection, Parker said. The law mandates that if authorities search certain professional offices, like clinics, and the professional is not under investigation, a special master must be appointed.

The special master not only oversees the searches, but has the ability to seal any privileged documents.