Updated: 11/02/2012 11:11 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer
Another big pay-out for the former police officer who said her privacy was violated by other officers. On Friday, the city of Minneapolis agreed to a settlement of nearly $400,000 ($392,500.00).
Anne Rasmusson has sued 150 officers in 16 departments statewide, claiming they used government databases to snoop on her. Rasmusson has been awarded more than $1 million dollars so far--$385,000 from the St. Paul Police Department and $280,000 from the League of Cities, which represents a group of smaller police departments.
Friday afternoon, Rasmusson's attorney Larry Fett (of the Sapientia Law Group), explained how it all began. "She would show up at a function attended by other police officers who seemed to know more about her than she thought would be expected, knew that she had moved, knew what kind of car she was driving," he said.
Rasmusson, a former Eden Prairie and St. Paul officer (now retired), became suspicious. She asked the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to look into how often her driver's license information had been accessed and was shocked to learn her file had been opened hundreds of times--for no apparent reason.
"And that has a hugely damaging impact on your feeling of security and your feeling of general welfare," Fett said.
In Minneapolis, 47 police officers were deposed in the case but Fett says he's still not exactly sure why so many felt the need to pry, other than the fact "she was perceived as interesting and attractive."
Driver's license information has been protected since 1994 under the federal Drivers' Privacy Protection Act. it was enacted after Hollywood actress Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered by a stalker. Back then, her killer had no problem obtaining her address from the DMV.
Of course, in the digital age, private information can also be easily obtained on the internet, through Google or Facebook. Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal alluded to that in its response to the settlement:
"Handling data properly is a responsibility the City takes seriously. Even though numerous sources of data are available through public online search services, as a government agency, special laws apply to us that can carry significant penalties. Today's settlement allows us to move forward and put this case behind us, as have all of the other jurisdictions sued in this case. The City has taken, and will continue to take, measures to ensure that City staff understand and follow the laws in this area."
City Councilman Don Samuels said, "No matter how easy it is to access it's unethical. It's kind of stalking." Samuels says the city is acquiring new equipment that will allow it to more closely monitor police use of government databases. "So supervisors would be immediately flagged if someone is having unusual or unauthorized use of the technology."
Fett, who said Rasmusson is "very happy" with the settlement with Minneapolis, added, "a big goal of Ms. Rasmusson is to make sure that this isn't something that is going to be repeated over and over again with other people."
But Rasmusson's lawsuit isn't over. She still has claims against even more officers in various state and county police agencies. Her attorneys are now focused on finalizing settlement agreements with them as well.
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org