August 22, 1962- June
When Donna Marie Gentile, escaped from a home for delinquent girls and made her way to San Diego she had big dreams. She worked in security for a while and even dreamed of joining the police department. But things didn’t work out as she planned. Donna, like many other innocent runaways, became a victim of the street walker life. While in survivor mode she was groomed, exploited, and coerced into prostitution, a path that took control of her life and ultimately led to her death at the age of twenty-two. Donna Gentile allowed herself to be befriended by several police officers thinking that this would afford her some protection in her dangerous life on the streets. Instead she was harassed and ultimately victimized by some of the same police to whom she had turned for help. But Donna was a fighter. Rather than taking the abuse, which included sexual harassment, she reported it to the San Diego Police Department. She testified against two officers, one of whom lost his job on account of her testimony. Her life became further complicated when the Internal Affairs Division exploited and coerced her into becoming a police corruption informant .
Donna was scared. She left a voice recording with her attorney beginning with the words, “In case I disappear,” and going on to state that “someone wearing a badge may turn out to be a serious criminal.”
In March 1985 while she was serving a sentence in Las Colinas jail the Philadelphia native wrote “My life is in danger when I get out.” Then three months later her brutally murdered body was found on Mt. Laguna in the rural part of San Diego county. Gravel was stuffed in her mouth, something the mob does when it wants to warn others against being a “snitch.” Donna’s autopsy was sealed – the first and only autopsy ever to be sealed in the city of San Diego.
Someone wanted to silence Donna. But who? “The Donna Gentile Story,” written by Donna’s first cousin Anita DeFrancesco, lets you decide, and it gives voice to future runaways forced to survive on the streets as sex workers. It shows how Donna Gentile was a trailblazer who carved a path for women by not remaining silent in the face of harassment and abuse. In this way she was an early pioneer of the “Me Too” movement which, at long last, is telling women that not only can they speak out, but that they can also act.
This high profile story exploded in the media and was nationally televised. Artists unveiled a billboard with the logo NHI, “No Humans Involved,” bearing Donna’s picture and facing toward the SDPD headquarters. We believe her murder was a “cover-up,” perhaps of police incompetence, or perhaps of something much more sinister.
The police try to label all sex workers as criminals. In fact many young women are victims of sex trafficking who have been coerced into prostitution, and sometimes the police are complicit in this.