A local television producer and former crime reporter is suing more than 40 government entites across Minnesota over alleged snooping into her drivers license file.
Beth McDonough, an investigative producer at KSTP, filed suit in federal court last week after learning in March that more than 170 law enforcement employees had viewed her data nearly 500 times in the state's drivers license database.
Her lawsuit is the latest in a slew of claims against the state and local governments over misuse of the Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) database, which is protected by state and federal law. Fourteen lawsuits have been filed in the last two years, several of which are being consolidated into one massive class action case.
The DVS database contains photographs, addresses and vehicle information on every Minnesotan with a drivers license. McDonough grew suspicious her file was being checked inappropriately after hearing some curious comments from police officers.
McDonough alleges in the complaint that in 2007 or 2008, then-Maple Grove police chief Mona Dohman told her “people are fascinated by you. Be a little careful.” Dohman, now the state's public safety commissioner, is among the defendants. A spokesman for her department declined to comment because it is ongoing litigation.
In 2011, McDonough was covering a shooting in Minneapolis when she overheard an unnamed Minneapolis police officer she did not know say to a colleague, "Oh yeah, she lives in Minnetonka. She’s an out-of-stater," according to the complaint.
A year later, an unnamed officer allegedly told McDonough "I like your new car" as she was walking through Minneapolis City Hall. A Minneapolis police spokesman, Sgt. William Palmer, referred an inquiry to the city attorney's office.
The complaint also states that learning about the breach "caused [McDonough's] hands to start shaking and brought her to tears." The "fear and sense of being stalked by those who were supposed to protect her" caused her to leave work early and take sick time.
McDonough's attorneys, the Sapientia Law Group, are representing a number of other plaintiffs in similar cases. They also represented Anne Rasmusson, the former cop who won more than $1 million in settlements from public entities after alleging misuse of the DVS database.
Jonathan Strauss, one of McDonough’s attorneys, said they have found that people who work with or for the police are more likely to have their DVS information looked up. “Working the crime beat for a news station shouldn’t expose your private life to the police,” Strauss said.
He later added: “We’ve got a young, single woman, and she shouldn’t have to worry about whether everyone with access to this database knows where she lives, if she’s moved, or what kind of car she drives."
Before arriving at KSTP in 2012, McDonough was a crime reporter with FOX 9. McDonough was dismissed by FOX 9 after her second drunken-driving arrest, according to a Star Tribune report. Strauss said none of the lookups cited in the lawsuit pertain to those arrests, however.
Photo: Beth McDonough (provided)