A Minnesota police union has threatened “legal action” in response to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office’s (HCAO) new “investigative protocol” for officer-involved shootings (OIS).
The Minnesota Sun first exposed the new protocol in an October article, which revealed that the personal cellphones of officers involved in “critical incidents” would be subject to search and seizure. A copy of the of the new OIS policy later obtained by The Sun confirmed that investigators would be directed to “seize any cellphone in possession of the involved officers, including work issued and personal phones in their possession before and after the event.”
The policy also calls for obtaining the “complete personnel file for involved officers, including training records, previous complaints and investigations, hiring information, fitness for duty information, and psychological records as appropriate or applicable.”
Allison Schaber, president of the Ramsey County Deputy Sheriff’s Union, accused the HCAO of “circumventing legal requirements to seize personal property” and continuing the “pattern of vilifying police officers.”
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), which represents more than 10,800 public safety professionals in Minnesota, including 2,471 in Hennepin County, sent a letter to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman demanding revisions to the new protocol.
“MPPOA maintains that peace officers who carry personal cell phones, and who do not use those phones for work-related activities, have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to those phones. Absent some particularized reason to believe that a phone contains information relevant to an OIS investigation, seizure of a personal cell phone without a warrant would be unjustifiable and a direct violation of the officer’s Fourth Amendment rights,” MPPOA Executive Director Brian Peters writes in the letter.
Until the policy is changed, Peters said his organization “stands ready to file for an immediate court injunction to block that seizure and otherwise protect our members’ constitutional rights” if any “investigating agency attempts to seize a personal cellphone” from a union member.
He also said the MPPOA has advised its members not to relinquish their personal cellphones to investigators if they are involved in an OIS.
Peters said he had concerns about the protocol’s mandate that an investigating agency obtain the “complete personnel file” for involved officers, including “psychological records.”
“The categories of records listed in this section include those typically containing private and highly personal data, such as background investigation and psychological screening records. It has come to our attention that, in connection with the investigation into an OIS taking place in Richfield last year, and presumably pursuant to this section of the protocol, your office requested copies of all personnel records for the officers involved in the incident; in some cases, those records were provided without a warrant, and without any notice to the involved officers,” Peters writes.
“We find this practice alarming, given that your office will eventually issue a report on its charging decision that will be available to the public, and which may refer to private data obtained from the officers’ home agencies without a warrant,” he concludes. “MPPOA demands that that section of the protocol be modified accordingly. Meanwhile, we plan to monitor these disclosures of personnel records closely and to take legal action as necessary.”
Peters’ full letter to Freeman can be viewed here.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Logo” by Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.