US cop awarded $1 million over randy officers' illegal use of license database as a private Facebook

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

policemanA former police officer has been awarded $1,057,000 in settlement payments after she filed suits charging privacy invasion against fellow officers who illegally accessed her photo and address more than 500 times.

Internal audits and investigations revealed that officers had taken to treating the state's driver license database as a kind of Facebook, using it to look up and ogle colleague Anne Marie Rasmusson, formerly of the Eden Prairie and St. Paul police forces in Minnesota.

According to City Pages, at the time the story broke in February, it was determined that 104 officers in 18 different agencies across the state of Minnesota had illegally accessed her driver’s license record for non-work-related purposes.

The Albert Lea Tribune reports that Minneapolis has approved a $392,000 USD payment to settle the privacy invasion claims. This comes on top of a $280,000 USD settlement reached with several other cities where officers similarly broke the law.

St. Paul is settling for $385,000 USD, bringing the total owed to Rasmusson to more than $1 million.

The amount could increase, though Rasmusson's lawyer, Larry Fett of Sapientia Law Group, said that the aim of future charges isn't money; rather, it's to set up better database monitoring that would flag the type of gang-privacy invasion to which Rasmusson was exposed between 2005 and 2012.

Rasmusson claimed that more than 140 officers looked at her private data over the course of those seven years without a legitimate reason.

The reason for all the peeping, and what would ultimately cause her to discover it, was a work-related injury that forced her into early retirement.

Rasmusson was forced to retire after severely injuring her back as she was helping a woman up who had suffered cardiac arrest.

Seeking to occupy herself, she turned to the gym. Within a year, she had lost a great deal of weight and gone on to compete as a bodybuilder.

But her connection to the police officer community stayed strong, with a stepfather who's a retired officer, a brother as a current officer and a retired officer as her ex-husband.

She began to wonder why people in the police community seemed to know surprisingly more about her than might be considered reasonable.

Men she dated knew too much about her and tormented her with details they got from cops.

Once, she was stopped for a minor traffic infraction. The officer was writing up a warning in his squad car.

 US cop awarded $1 million over randy officers' illegal use of license database as a private Facebook Some five other squad cars pulled up. The officers didn't get out: they just looked her over and then drove on.

One of the oglers went so far as to flat-out admit he'd looked her up: a former academy colleague mentioned, in 2009, that she looked great and that he and his partner had viewed her driver's license photo from their squad car computer.

As a former cop, Rasmusson knew you could get a person's photo, address, and height and weight from the driver license database. She also knew it was illegal to do so for non-work-related matters.

She had lost a lot of weight. At 5'2", she's petite, so it brought about a considerable transformation.

When a police officer looks online, he or she can access just only a driver's current photo but all photos ever depicted on a person's driver's license.

In August 2011, Rasmusson got in touch with the state’s Department of Public Safety to see if she could restrict access to her driver’s license file.

You can't, it turns out. But the DPS investigated and found that cops had repeatedly accessed her record, as far back as 2007.

From what her lawyers could determine from disciplinary reports, officers would gather around a computer, peek at Rasmusson's photo, and gossip.

These aren't just rank-and-file officers, mind you.

Eden Prairie Sergeant Carter Staaf reportedly accounted for 13 direct look-ups over the years, admitting in an investigation that he looked her up to compare photos to see how Rasmusson looked in before-and-after driver's license photos.

City Pages reports that his penalty, a demotion and five-day suspension, is the harshest to result from the inquiry. Others had letters of warning placed in their files and were sent to retraining.

In the aftermath, both news reports and commenters have pointed to taxpayers getting stuck with paying the fines.

That's true. It's outrageous that taxpayers are stuck paying for law enforcement who break the law.

But as Rasmusson's lawyer, Larry Fett, pointed out, it's also a huge waste of taxpayer money to subsidize illegal acts carried out by public servants:

"It's also taxpayer money to hire a police officer to sit around with four or five other officers, looking at pictures of a woman using a state database online as if it were Facebook."

"Our hope is this will make police officers more efficient. If they get bored, hopefully they won't look up pretty women on the state database."

Failing that, the commissioners in the DPS might set up such databases to ensure that cops stick to using work tools for work. Fett said they're showing a good-faith effort, so hopefully Minnesota will soon have technology to help curb the prurient side of human nature.

lady driver and policemanimage from Shutterstock.

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12 Responses to US cop awarded $1 million over randy officers' illegal use of license database as a private Facebook

  1. ejhonda · 1070 days ago

    Taxpayers should NOT be footing the bill for this settlement. It should be coming directly out of the garnished wages of the guilty officers involved.

    • Lisa Vaas · 1070 days ago

      That's the problem: WHAT garnished wages? Little, if anything, will be done to these officers, particularly those in the unionized forces in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Nothing against unions, mind you, but don't expect garnished wages.

    • CDB · 1069 days ago

      Ejhonda, police officers' wages ARE taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers are footing the bill no matter which way you slice it.

  2. Accountability is important in preventing future acts. Clearly the cops responsible won't be breaking a sweat.

  3. Jack · 1069 days ago

    As a retired officer, I'm proud that I never accessed anything that wasn't job related even though I taught software classes at a community college. Taxpayers pay for about everything that happens within a city, being right or wrong. It's along the lines of every time someone accesses something they are not supposed to are you going to tag them with a 300,000 dollar bill as punishment? A demotion is proper or even expelled from the force as they know it's illegal and did it anyway. The courts are the ones that (or attorneys) that come up with the money numbers and if they were not large, she probably couldn't afford to sue them as the attorneys make a big chunk of that purse.

    Until all persons understand (including governments) that data is private you will have these problems.

  4. Chuck B · 1069 days ago

    Except for the ridiculous settlement amount, this seems, to me, to be a farce.
    They looked at a driver license picture? So does the clerk at the store where you cash a check. How many folks make a copy of your driver's license when you open a bank accountk buy insurance, etc. etc.
    And does this (now a millionaire) lady get any retirement pay from her disability? The disability that allowed her to become a body builder?
    And the 'bad' cops, do you want to fire them for looking at a picture? What does it cost to recruit, train their replacements?
    The whole story, assuming this covered all pertinent detail, is ridiculous.

    • Jack · 1068 days ago

      Chuck, many debilitating accidents occur that can leave you out of a job, especially police work. There was no mention of how long it took her to become a 'bodybuilder' and I'm sure she could have and probably was back to some kind of job. Most people can't deal with no job and low income when they lose a job.

      There is lots of information about people in these databases, not just a picture and could have her whole life history the way some state police operate. The fine, of course is to drive it to the city that this is not to be repeated. The principle is to stop it from occurring and we need to keep this in place or there is no end what could occur, such as officers being paid to look up personal information, as a guess.

  5. Randy · 1069 days ago

    She's nothing special. Why would officers all over the state keep checking her pictures on her license? They are all face shots mind you, not full body cheesecake.
    I'll bet the draw was the weight loss transformation, going from a fat face to a skinny face. That's certainly not worth $1 Million. Of course in this politically correct world a million bucks is awfully hard to turn down even if you have to feign horror at a minor offense to get it.

  6. Marc · 1068 days ago

    Let me get this straight, a few cops peer at a driver's license and a cool 1 million dollars gets handed out. Now that license is all over the internet for everyone to see - anyone notice something odd about this or is it just me?

  7. Jodie · 1068 days ago

    I think this is a sensationalist story & I'm disappointed in Sophos for publishing this with her photo and personal information (incl belittling comment on driver's licence) You have just invaded her privacy again. Some comments are attacking this person for fighting for justice. Is it her fault also for the way the US judicial system is run? (that's a rhetorical question)

  8. Jodie · 1068 days ago

    sorry, actually the article itself isn't sensationalist, but the photo is & probably shouldn't have been used.

  9. Matt · 1064 days ago

    I don't know what the criminal statutes are like in Minnesota, but in Virginia accessing DMV information for non criminal justice purposes is a crime. Not only can the "trespasser" be prosecuted, but the agency for whom they work can lose their access to the DMV if the offense is serious enough.

    I think there is more to this story than what is being told. The woman is attractive but not what I would risk my career over. For this to involve multiple agencies means people were talking about something other than the fact that a former officer lost weight. I won't speculate what those conversations involved, but this stinks of more than is being covered in this story. But then again I'm a little cynical and suspicious of media stories that don't add up.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.