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Inspections chief will make case next week

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: December 11, 2012 - 3:26 PM

A longtime city employee, charged with inappropriately accessing drivers license records, will have to wait another week to present his initial defense in court.

Prosecutors accused Tom Deegan, Minneapolis' housing inspections director, of accessing drivers license records without a business purpose in a brief complaint filed this September. Also charged was Michael Karney, a city housing inspector.

Though misuse of the Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) database is common, criminal prosecution is rare. Deegan's attorney plans to argue at oral arguments next Thursday -- originally scheduled for today -- that his client is being selectively prosecuted since DVS misuse was "endemic" at City Hall.

The DVS database is protected under federal and state law, which require a business purpose for searches. It contains photographs, addresses, driving records and physical descriptions of nearly every Minnesotan.

Deegan continues to receive full pay, though he is not working. His attorney, Paul Engh, said he has a hearing with the city in January challenging his employment status.

In a pre-trial motion to dismiss filed this month, Engh argues that Deegan did not intentionally violate any laws and is unfamiliar with many of the names he is accused of querying. The motion says other employees used his password "with and without permission." 

He "may" have checked on records of his deceased brother and mother, but "crime infers a victim and the dead haven't complained," according to the filing.

"The access of private records was an endemic problem in the City of Minneapolis," the filing says. "It was accomplished by many and permitted for years and years. It was part and parcel of the culture promoted by members of the City Council no less."

To prove how common DVS misuse was in Minneapolis, Deegan's legal team is requesting a host of information relating to police offers implicated in a recent lawsuit. Minneapolis settled with the plaintiff, former cop Anne Marie Rasmusson, for $392,500. 

The case is being prosecuted by the St. Paul City Attorney's office, to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

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