(KMSP) - A former Minnesota police officer is speaking out about the lawsuits centered on some cops abusing the power at their fingertips to look up the personal driver’s license information.
Former Bloomington Sgt. Chuck Gollop admits he was one of the officers who abused his access to the information, but claims it was at a time when, in his words, “everyone was doing it.”
Gollup was one of the first officers named in a 2009 lawsuit filed by former St. Paul cop Ann Rassmussen against more than 16 other departments when she discovered her personal driver’s license information had been looked up hundreds of times.
For years, officers statewide, including Gollop, had already been using the laptops in their patrol cars to run driver’s license information as part of official police work. But, Gollop says an abuse of that power set in quickly.
“You could look up anyone at any time,” Gollup told Fox 9. “The problem is what was conveyed to us, which came from the trainers who intended initial training was to use this system, get familiar with it, find any way you can, pull out yearbooks.”
A statement from the Department of Public Safety contradicts everything Gollap claims, saying DPS and DVS has not and does not instruct someone training on the driver’s license system to look up random individuals.
“We have a number of individuals who have discovered this misuse and abuse by our government and not everyone in government and not all law enforcement, but there is seriously a problem,” Sonia Miller-Van Oort with the Sapientia Law Group said.
Since their initial suit, Sapientia Law Group has filed more than 30 additional lawsuits on behalf of people in the news, on the news or with a connection to law enforcement, most of them women, including a couple at Fox 9, who believe their privacy was violated repeatedly.
Miller-Van Oort says in some cases law enforcement officials accessed their information more than a thousand times – looking up their date of birth and past photos.
“Why did I run ‘Leah Beno’? I don't know. I ran everybody. [I] just saw a new news reporter on channel 9 new in town,” Gollup said.
Gollop insists the system-wide problem was so common. An audit shows even Gollup himself was looked up over 285 times.
Since he’s left law enforcement, training, and of course awareness, have somewhat improved.
“What we've heard from officers we've taken the depositions of is that, no matter their training, the DVS database where the information is kept was a tool of law enforcement and they were supposed to use it for official police business and not supposed to use it for unofficial police business or curiosity,”
“Do I regret running people inappropriately? I think so. I do. I don't want to dodge that question,” Gollup said.
Gollop was only named in the first suit, but there are still several cases pending.