A Minneapolis assistant city attorney who works alongside police officers has reached a $32,500 settlement with the city after learning that more than 100 officers had snooped into her driver’s license file.
The City Council approved the settlement last week after Paula Kruchowski’s attorney wrote in a notice of claim letter — which typically precedes a lawsuit — that she had been “oogled [sic] by scores of men.” As the city attorney’s office liaison to the police domestic assault unit, Kruchowski works in Police Department offices at City Hall.
Lawsuits over public employee misuse of driver’s license data have grown common over the last year, but Kruchowski’s claim is a rare example of a government employee suing their own employer.
Her attorney, Bill Tilton, said Kruchowski grew suspicious after several odd interactions with Police Department employees. She eventually received a list of lookups from the Department of Public Safety, showing queries from 118 different police users dating to 2003.
“I believe that the comments she got effectively told her that she looked different from her [driver’s license] photo,” Tilton said in an interview. “And that somebody mentioned specifically that they knew where she lived. And it made her feel very uncomfortable.”
The Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) database contains photographs, addresses and driving records on nearly every Minnesotan with a license. It is protected against misuse under state and federal law, but a legislative audit in February found common breaches.
MPD users queried Kruchowski’s file between 164 and 274 times, depending on whether some consecutive lookups are grouped together, according to Tilton.
“Ms. Kruchowski is rather distraught about this whole mess, and gets increasingly so over time, as the implications get clarified in her mind of being window-peeped hundreds of times by scores of co-workers, co-workers who happen to be in the main tough testosterone-laden men who are used to getting their way with folk and who are known to have long memories,” Tilton wrote to the city.
In a statement this week, Tilton said Kruchowski was pleased by the city’s quick response. “She is satisfied that the city has stepped up to the plate and taken responsibility for inappropriate actions by city employees,” Tilton wrote on her behalf.
Cyndi Barrington, a Police Department spokeswoman, said they are not opening an internal inquiry since the lookups took place before a March 2011 administrative announcement reminding employees about proper usage of protected records.
On Tuesday, however, a federal lawsuit was filed by another female officer against about 50 municipalities, including Minneapolis.
The suit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis by attorneys for Amy Krekelberg, a Minneapolis police officer, alleges that officers with more than 40 municipalities illegally viewed her private driver’s license data nearly 1,000 times since 2003.
Officers accessed her data 575 times through the city of Minneapolis, the suit says. It also points to 72 unpermitted accesses by Roseville officers, and 99 times by officers with Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, where she used to work, among other alleged breaches of her privacy. It names the 50 municipalities, along with top state public safety officials and supervisors.
Lorenz Fett, one of Krekelberg’s attorneys, said she was named the 2010 Minneapolis Park Police officer of the year, and he believes that professional curiosity by other officers sparked perhaps many, if not most, of the improper data accesses.
Staff writer Joy Powell also contributed to this report.