A Mendota Heights police officer has been suspended for 30 working days without pay after an internal investigation found that he inappropriately gained access to driver's license information and shared investigation details with the incoming mayor after being ordered to keep quiet.
Sgt. Mike Shepard, a 10-year department veteran, was issued two 15-day suspensions beginning Feb. 17 by Chief Kelly McCarthy. She noted that Shepard's attitude and relationships with other department members "prevent him from being a productive, effective employee."
Inappropriate access of Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) data has been an issue for law enforcement officers in the past few years. A rash of federal lawsuits were filed in Minnesota from 2012 to 2014 by individuals whose DVS data had been accessed by public employees, mostly in law enforcement. A 2013 state audit found widespread misuse of the database, which includes drivers' photos, addresses and driving records.
"There's no reasonable cop in 2016 who would access DVS improperly," McCarthy said. "You should just know better."
Shepard, who could not be reached Monday, is scheduled to return to work April 16.
McCarthy, who became chief in December 2016 after Mike Aschenbrener stepped down, said the investigation into Shepard was underway when she got the job.
In a letter to Shepard, McCarthy wrote that from June 1 to Oct. 11, 2016, Shepard looked up 272 license plates through DVS and that 12 of those queries were found to be suspicious. He accessed DVS information about his girlfriend, co-workers, community members and City Council members, and also twice looked up photos with no official purpose.
Shepard had improperly accessed DVS records in 2009, the letter said, and received training on appropriate use of the database.
Shepard also was found to have disobeyed a direct order not to speak with any current or former city employees or anyone outside the city about being under investigation. According to the letter, Shepard contacted Mayor-elect Neil Garlock, who had worked for the department, because Garlock "would be called on to make a decision at the conclusion of the investigation."