Saying that a person has a “million dollar smile” is an expression not to be taken literally; unless you are retired police officer Anne Marie Rasmusson, formerly from the St. Paul Police Department who received over a million dollars in a settlement database case. The former police office has been awarded $392,000 on top of a $280,000 settlement in a case of invasion of privacy.
The retired officer filed the claims against fellow officers who illegally accessed her driver’s license over 400 times to view it. The Minneapolis City Council issued the ruling and St. Paul, Minnesota will also award her $385,000; thus bringing the total amount to $1,057,000 that tax payers will foot the bill.
According to the Minneapolis independent paper City Pages, this case represents one of the largest data breaches committed by law enforcement officials in history. Formerly with the St. Paul Police Department, Ramusson was called by colleagues “Bubbles” because of her personality. In 2003, an injury forced her to go into early retirement but was determined to stay in shape, so she entered body building competitions while her husband- another Minnesota officer- went to work.
There seemed to be no problems until 2009 where a colleague from the police academy spoke with her and complimented her on her good looks. He had told her that, along with his partner, used their cruiser’s computer to look at her driver’s license photo. When she suspected that the Minnesota’s driver’s license database was being misused, she contacted the Department of Public Safety to inquire about having access to her driver’s license blocked.
She notified them of her reason and an employee decided to open an investigation and discovered that her license was viewed many times by officers as far back as 2007. As a result of the investigation, it was discovered that 104 officers in 18 agencies in Minnesota had looked at her license a total of 425 times!
During a span of four years, the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office, their state troopers and the Bloomington Police viewed her license. In St. Paul, her file was viewed 175 times by 42 officers. In Minneapolis, her file was viewed 133 times by 24 officers. During a span of two years, her file was viewed 30 times by a female officer from St. Paul. Rasmusson told the City Pages that, “There is nothing that I would say about this driver’s license photo or any of my previous ones that in any way would deserve the attention that they’ve gotten. I can’t begin to understand what people were thinking.”
Though the allegations made by her have been denied by the city of St. Paul, they chose to settle out of court in order “to avoid the uncertainties and costs associated with continued litigation of this matter.” The city’s attorney Sara Grewing told the Pioneer Press that “The city’s liability could have been upwards of $565,000 because the statute provides $2,500 to be assessed per each unlawful look-up of the database, and we had 226 look-ups. So we were looking at $565,000 plus attorney’s fees, if we were found liable.”
City pages reports that the practice of officers accessing the database for personal reasons is widespread, according to one officer that was given anonymity because of fear of being disciplined. He said, “I get Anne’s side of it. But every single cop in the state has done this. Chiefs on down.”
Meanwhile, Rasmusson still has a lawsuit against the state of Minnesota and the amount she has already been awarded will go up if she wins. In the aftermath of the lawsuits, her picture, address, name and other personal information has to be removed from the city and police department’s internal directory and website as part of the settlement.
As for those officers involved in looking up Rasmusson’s information, most of them got away with additional training and warning letters. The harshest punishment handed out was received by an officer who looked up her record 13 times in the form of being suspended for five days and a demotion. In Minneapolis, none of the 24 officers who looked up her photo have been disciplined and St. Paul absolved four of its officers. However, if federal privacy laws swing in Rasmusson’s favor, all of the 104 officers that viewed her profile could end up losing their jobs.
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