The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.
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Last fall, after a deranged employee went on a rampage and killed six people at Accent Signage in Minneapolis, the police said they were prohibited by law from saying whether the now-dead gunman, Andrew Engeldinger, a had permit to carry a loaded weapon in public.
Under the state Data Practices Act, which governs what is and what is not public data in Minnesota, "All data pertaining to the purchase or transfer of firearms and applications for permits to carry firearms ... are private."
"That's very comprehensive and cold in terms of public access to data," said Mark Anfinson, an attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association who specializes in public record laws.
That provision would likely extend to all people who have been issued permits and gone on to commit crimes. A 2011 BCA report says since 2003 there were 1,159 crimes reported by permit holders, including 114 where a gun was used to further the crime (see page 254 of the pdf). But again, the names of those people are likely protected by the data practices act.
Anfinson said the genesis of the law, which has been in place since at least 1981, was likely to protect permit holders from people who could look up their information and steal their firearms. But because the wording "all data" is so broad, Anfinson said it applies even to criminals who have had their permits revoked, or even to the deceased.
There are some ways data on permit holders who have committed crimes can be made public: if it's revealed either in a court record, for example, or in a law enforcement investigation that's been made inactive.
And then there's a provision in the Data Practices Act (Subd. 15) that allows any law enforcement agency to release any criminal investigative data classified as confidential if the agency deems that it would be in the "public interest" to do so. Which may explain why the Oakdale police chief at least hinted that Nhan Tran, who is accused of randomly shooting and killing 9-year-old Devin Aryal Monday night, had a permit to carry a gun (though he wouldn't outright say it).
"We are comfortable that Tran was not in possession unlawfully," Chief Bill Sullivan said.
Do you think it's in the public's interest to know if criminals have been issued a permit to purchase or carry?
Update, 4:15 p.m.:To clarify, law enforcement can't report all of the gun permit information on criminals, even if they feel that doing so would be in the public's interest.
The part of the law that allows law enforcement to disclose non-public information only applies to criminal investigative data, notes Toni Beitz, a senior assistant attorney with Hennepin County. So in other words, if police find out through a criminal investigation that a suspected criminal is a permit holder and they want to release that information, they can, Beitz said.
However, if they find out that information after a conviction, then they cannot give that information to the public, no matter how much they feel it would be in the public's interest.
Whistleblower's wrote about Bloomington's precious metal ordinance. Add your thoughts below or comment on the first posting of the article by clicking here.
Eight years ago, when Mary Ritter's jewelry was stolen from her home in Apple Valley, she found it at a pawnshop where, by state law, items must be held for 60 days before being sold.
When it was stolen this summer for a second time, Ritter was not so lucky.
This time it was sold to a precious metal dealer at the Mall of America, where, because of an exemption in Bloomington city code, the business has no obligation to hold purchases for any length of time.
Last month, it took more than two weeks for Ritter to notice that a basement window had been tampered with, realize the jewelry was missing and contact police. By then the fate of the six pieces of silver, gold and diamond jewelry had been sealed.
Ritter said it took police several days to track the merchandise to The Gold Guys, which, according to records obtained by police, paid $428 for it.
She said company employees later told her the bulk of the jewelry had been melted down within 24 hours.
The Gold Guys would not have been allowed to do that five years ago. But in 2007, the Bloomington City Council changed its ordinance to allow any company that put up a $50,000 bond to bypass a state law's requirement for a 14-day holding period.
The bond was meant to compensate anyone who can prove his or her stolen jewelry was sold to the business.
Bloomington's exemption is unique among 11 major Minnesota cities, where nine require dealers to hold second-hand jewelry for two weeks, and one, Minneapolis, requires a 30-day holding period.
The Gold Guys co-owner Joe Beasy said his business goes to great lengths to discourage thieves from trying to unload stolen jewelry there, and suggests Ritter should look elsewhere for compensation.
"[The thief] should pay back. He's the one with the money," Beasy said. "He took the goods, he stole them and he benefitted. He's the one that the law and she should go after."
It's not clear how Ritter could take advantage of the bond, which she didn't know about until informed by Whistleblower. Even if she were compensated, "I've lost my jewelry," said Ritter, 54. "While I might be able to go out and buy new jewelry, it won't be the same because it won't have been those sentimental pieces."
Strict or not strict enough?
For metal dealers, the luxury of being able to immediately sell or melt down merchandise is rare. State law requires a 14-day holding period, but allows cities to adopt stricter standards.
After it changed its precious metal dealer ordinance in 2007, the Bloomington City Council revisited the issue in late 2010 out of concerns that its safeguards weren't adequate. Businesses that opted for a bond in lieu of a holding period would also have to photograph all customers selling jewelry and other precious metal items, as well as the items themselves.
In December 2010, Beasy lobbied against the proposed photo requirements. At the time, City Manager Mark Bernhardson described him as out of compliance with the current ordinance.
Meeting minutes show Beasy argued that the city's rules were already burdensome and that "the days of jewelry burglaries are over."
Council Member Thomas Hulting questioned "the likelihood that the jewelry can be recovered if it is melted in one day." Police Chief Jeff Potts said that with photos or video, he thought it was possible.
Associate City Attorney Lisa Netzer said the amendment is a compromise between businesses and police. The council ended up approving the photo requirement.
The Gold Guys went along with the stricter requirements so it could continue to move fast in a volatile gold market, Beasy said, but the business typically holds pieces two to four weeks "when we can."
City officials, meantime, defend their policy.
"If anything we are constantly being condemned ... by people like The Gold Guys and the pawnshop guys for being more restrictive," Council Member Vern Wilcox said in an interview.
To date, no one has been compensated from the $50,000 bond put up by The Gold Guys, Potts said.
Photo ID is necessary
Minnesota precious metal dealers must record every transaction, with information from the customer's photo ID.
In addition, Bloomington dealers must submit a daily transaction report to police and, with the larger bond, take photos.
"There's no way that anyone can sell anything in our store and not get caught if it's stolen. If it's reported to police, we have it on record and we can find them," Beasy said.
The problem of stolen goods is "almost minuscule," Beasy added. He said a review of a year's worth of business at their mall location, 15,000 transactions or so, turned up only seven reports of stolen property.
"99.99 percent of our customers were just housewives and mothers and truck drivers," he said.
The ability of documentation to aid in the capture of criminals is small consolation to Ritter.
"I'm the victim here," she said.
If the thief had sold to a pawnshop or a Minneapolis dealer, Ritter might have been able to retrieve it as she did the first time.
Despite being told her stolen diamond pendant, which hadn't been manufactured for 15 years, had been melted down, Ritter decided to search the Internet for it.
To her surprise, she said, she found what she believes to be the stolen pendant on eBay. She bought it for $295.
Bloomington police continue to investigate the burglary.
Over the past year, hundreds of you have asked Whistleblower for help. While we can’t investigate each tip, we want to share more of what you tell us. In 2009, we started publishing a few tips each week to stimulate online discussion and create ways for our readers to help each other. Unlike our news stories, we have not verified this information, so we do not include the names of the parties involved. If you have a tip, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A doctor wrote to Whistleblower because he was frustrated by a travel insurance company’s refusal to pay a claim. One of his patients was hospitalized after a drug overdose. The patient’s sister canceled a trip to take care of her. When the sister made a claim with her travel insurance company, she was denied.
The doctor spoke with the company and found out that a self-inflicted-injury exclusion applied whether it was the insured or a family member who was injured.
“My point is that 1) the insured had no control over the situation, 2) what reasonable person is going to continue a vacation when their sister is critically ill in the hospital?” the doctor wrote.
Does this policy seem fair to you?
Over the past year, hundreds of you have asked Whistleblower for help. While we can’t investigate each tip, we want to share more of what you tell us. In 2009, we started publishing a few tips each week to stimulate online discussion and create ways for our readers to help each other. Unlike our news stories, we have not verified this information. If you have a tip, send it to email@example.com.
After his car was hit by another vehicle that fled the scene, a Minneapolis man found out that the unlicensed driver who backed into his car at a gas station had a warrant out for her arrest. When he submitted a claim to the car owner’s insurance company, a representative said the vehicle was used by a friend without the owner’s permission, prompting the company to reject his claim.
He doesn’t think his insurance company should have to cover the damage to his vehicle. Now he’s stuck paying a $500 deductible, and he’s worried his rates will go up.
“It’s such an obvious con story,” he said.
Do you think insurance companies should pay up even if the insured driver didn’t give permission to the person behind the wheel?
Nearly two months after I wrote about a chiropractor who regained his license after serving two years in jail for sexually assaulting two patients, the Legislature unanimously passed a bill that bans most sex offenders from becoming chiropractors. The measure is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The legislators who introduced the law said they had no idea that it was extremely difficult for the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners and other state licensing boards to permanently ban a convicted sex offender from working in their profession. The Board of Medical Practice, which licenses doctors, midwives, acupuncturists and other medical professionals, is already required to yank the license of anyone convicted of a felony-level sexual offense. Over the next several months, legislators said they planned to reach out to other health-related licensing boards to determine if the law should be extended to other professions. Whistleblower will follow up to find out if other boards support the measure.
Click here to read my story from today's paper.
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