Library is pressed to take gang force report off Web

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2009 - 8:06 PM

The legislative library rebuffed demands by police lawyers who argued that the public document should be removed because it names undercover officers.

Leaders of the Metro Gang Strike Force and police union attorneys pressured the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, the state attorney general and a commission that oversees the library to remove the 2008 Metro Gang Strike Force report from its website. But the director refused, saying she does not censor public documents.

"It was pretty amazing," said Library Director Robbie LaFleur. "I have been here 20 years, and no one really has questioned these publicly available reports before."

Police union lawyers argued that it should be removed because it lists names of officers still operating undercover.

Bud Shaver, chairman of the advisory board of the disbanded Strike Force, asked LaFleur to take the 40-page report off the website. When LaFleur said she would not, Strike Force Advisory Board attorney Kori Land called and wrote her. St. Paul Police Federation lawyers also tried to force LaFleur to remove the names and were unsuccessful in getting Attorney General Lori Swanson and the Legislative Coordinating Commission that oversees the library to intervene.

Swanson's office said it has no authority over the library and the commission backed LaFleur. The report is still on the library website at www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl.

LaFleur said she also consulted with staff attorneys in the state House and Senate as well as Legislative Auditor James Nobles, and that she "absolutely" stands by her decision.

Asked if she ever faced a similar situation, LaFleur said in 2007 that the Department of Natural Resources asked her to remove documents on the web that listed the location of endangered plants. Biologists feared tourists might try to find them. Other major public libraries had copies of the report, she said, and the data was available from the DNR. So the Reference Library took it offline.

The Strike Force report "was a different animal," LaFleur said, because the Reference Library was at the time the only library with a copy. "The agency and its activities were high-profile, and public access was even more crucial," she said.

The release of Strike Force officers' names became an issue in the year after a controversial trip to Hawaii by six Strike Force officers attending a conference on gangs. In April, the Star Tribune named the six officers in a news story, and the officers sued the Department of Public Safety for disclosing their names, saying they were undercover.

The telephone and letter exchanges over the report in the Reference Library took place in August. At that time, the Strike Force advisory board asked that the report be removed because it was still a defendant in the lawsuit and therefore felt "an obligation to try to get that report taken down," Land said in an interview. The board has since been dismissed as a defendant, "So it's not our problem," she said.

The suit remains unresolved. Public Safety spokesman Andy Skoogman defends the department, saying the names of Strike Force members were approved at public meetings.

But Federation attorney Christopher Wachtler, who represents two officers in the suit, said, "If Gang Strike Force officers were performing undercover work, their identities are protected under the Data Practices Act."

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

  • With phote of Robbie LaFleur, library director
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