Minneapolis Police Officer Awarded $585,000 in Suit Over Abuse of State Driver's License Database

A Minneapolis police cruiser, 2007.
Photo: Tony Webster (Wikimedia Commons)

Minneapolis police officer Amy Krekelberg won $585,000 in a jury verdict this week, including $300,000 in punitive damages, after suing the city and two officers over unauthorized access to a government database of driver’s license information, Wired reported.

The verdict originates in a 2013 incident in which a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources employee was found to have inappropriately looked at thousands of people in the state’s data, most of them women. Krekelberg, a police officer, was one of them and asked for an audit under Minnesota state law—finding that her data had been viewed nearly 1,000 times, according to Wired. She then sued the state and two other officers:

In fact, Krekelberg was law enforcement: she joined the Minneapolis Police Department in 2012, after spending eight years working elsewhere for the city, mostly as an officer for the Park & Recreation Board. She later learned that over 500 of those lookups were conducted by dozens of other cops. Even more eerie, many officers had searched for her in the middle of the night.

Krekelberg eventually sued the city of Minneapolis, as well as two individual officers, for violating the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which governs the disclosure of personal information collected by state Departments of Motor Vehicles. Earlier this week, she won. On Wednesday, a jury awarded Krekelberg $585,000, including $300,000 in punitive damages from the two defendants, who looked up Krekelberg’s information after she allegedly rejected their romantic advances, according to court documents.

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The Associated Press wrote that Krekelberg found that 58 fellow officers in the Minneapolis Police Department had looked up her information on the database from 2009 to 2013, obtaining data including “her photograph, address, age, height, and weight” and breaking federal privacy law in the process. Court documents showed that the two officers in the suit, who were ordered to pay the $300,000 in punitive damages, looked her up after she rejected their romantic advances, according to Wired.

Numerous other cases have come up, Wired added, but most were settled out of court and Krekelberg’s was the only to go to trial. Two of her lawyers, Sonia Miller-Van Oort and Jonathan Strauss, said her case was particularly serious because it led to harassment from fellow officers and on one occasion led to other officers refusing to provide backup. The AP noted that one of the prior cases involving another law enforcement official, St. Paul officer Anne Rasmusson, resulted in settlements with several communities in the state that cumulatively reached over $1 million.

Police abuse of databases of personal information are widespread, according to the AP, which separately reported in 2016 that it had identified 325 incidents between 2013 and 2015 in which law enforcement officers or employees had been “fired, suspended or resigned” following allegations of misuse of local and state systems and the FBI-ran National Crime and Information Center. More than 250 separate incidents resulted in lesser punishments ranging from reprimands to counseling, the AP wrote, with the numbers being “unquestionably an undercount.”

“The Minnesota case shows that without strong protections, police officers may abuse their data access—even by invading the privacy of their fellow officers, particularly women,” Human Rights Watch observer Sarah St. Vincent told the AP. “As Congress and the states consider adopting stronger data protections, they should limit what police can do with personal information.”

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Minneapolis City Attorney Susan L. Segal told the AP her office is “exploring options for challenging the verdict” and that this is “the last of this series of Driver Privacy Protection Act cases involving the city.” According to Wired, Segal said that the Minneapolis Police Department had changed policies including requiring personnel to submit a reason when requesting an individual’s information, and that practices such as encouraging trainees to “go back to work and look up some of [their] friends and family members” to learn the system had ended.

[Wired]

 

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post