A 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.
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.
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.