Undercover cops blow their cover
- Article by: RANDY FURST
- Star Tribune
- March 23, 2011 - 2:15 PM
Earlier this month, police unions filed a lawsuit objecting to the identification of six members of the Metro Gang Strike Force, saying releasing their names was illegal and could endanger them by blowing their cover.
Yet a quick Google search would have revealed that the officers' names and affiliations with the Strike Force or police departments are easily available from a variety of public sources.
One officer's gang Strike Force affiliation is listed on the social networking site classmates.com. Another is cited as a Strike Force member who donated to a social service agency.
A third was mentioned online as the recipient of a medal for undercover police work. A fourth is on the public roster of his police department.
Asked about their names being on public websites, Chris Wachtler, an attorney for the St. Paul Police Federation, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and representative of two of the Strike Force members, said, "I have no comment so long as you intend to print their names in the paper."
The Star Tribune named the investigators April 5 in an article about their trip in March to an Asian gang conference in Hawaii. Chris Omodt, the new Strike Force commander, was quoted saying that using public Strike Force funds to pay for that many officers to go was "ridiculous." The board that oversees the Strike Force decided to send them, saying many expenses were non-refundable, and the trip had value.
On May 7, the St. Paul Police Federation and Law Enforcement Labor Services sued the state Department of Public Safety, the Strike Force and Omodt over release of the investigators' names to the newspaper. The Public Safety department said then that it released the information as part of a public data request from the newspaper and stood by its decision.
The suit refers to the investigators only as John Does 1 to 5, and Jane Doe. Since then, one John Doe has been dropped from the suit for reasons that weren't disclosed.
The suit says the remaining five Strike Force members perform undercover work and that disclosing their identities puts them and their families at risk and compromises their ability to perform undercover investigations.
The suit also said state law says all personnel data from a government agency relating to undercover officers is private.
A relatively simple Google search last week quickly yielded references to all six investigators; four were listed as Strike Force members and two as police officers.
Paul Meskan was listed on classmates.com as a member of the Ramsey County sheriff patrol and the Gang Strike Force. His Strike Force affiliation also is included in a Bemidji State newsletter, and he is cited as giving a talk on gangs to a Catholic Church.
Timothy Pinoniemi is listed on the St. Paul Police Historical Society website for getting a medal for a 1997 undercover operation.
Tim Noll is named in the annual report of the Lino Lakes Police as an officer. Alesia Metry is listed on a website as a Strike Force member who donated to a social service agency.
Strike Force officers John McManus and Jon Hankes are mentioned in state appeals court decisions posted on the Internet.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382
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