By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
"I just want this to stop," Rasmusson said.
At first, the coordinator was skeptical. An audit of the database is serious business, and hunches didn't get Rasmusson very far.
So Rasmusson wove the larger story: She used to be a cop and she'd heard that after her divorce other officers were looking her up.
Finally, the coordinator agreed. She'd have the results in a couple of days.
When Rasmusson got a call two weeks later, the coordinator took a very different tone: "Have you been on the news recently?"
Rasmusson, who was just leaving a friend's house, pulled her car over to the side of a township road. "No," she said. "There's been nothing."
The coordinator told Rasmusson that her hunch had been right: Her private data was accessed over and over by cops all across the state, going back to 2007.
Each of the cops who'd looked her up would be notified about the audit, and their access of her record would be investigated for possible discipline. Rasmusson, however, wouldn't have a voice in the process. The officers would know who she was; she wouldn't know who they were.
"Can you tell me how many agencies there were?" Rasmusson asked.
The coordinator told her the final tally was 18.
Rasmusson ended the call. Then she opened the car door and vomited.
On September 14, in an atrium room above the Eden Prairie Police Department, Lieutenant Bill Wyffels sat down with Officer Zachary Hessel and flicked on a recording device. After some seemingly mundane questions about legal uses of the database, the real interview began.
"I'll get to the meat and potatoes of this," Wyffels said. "The Department of Vehicle Services received a complaint from a female who is a former officer of the Eden Prairie Police Department. Her name is Anne Marie Rasmusson."
"I know who she is," said Hessel.
"She believes that her name was run in the DVS database," continued Wyffels. "Do you ever recall personally running her name in the database?"
The officer quickly invoked his Garrity rights, a law enforcement privilege that says his statements can be used only for internal investigations, not criminal prosecution. Then he answered the question: "Yes, I do."
In the months that followed the audit, similar Internal Affairs interviews were taking place in private rooms in law enforcement agencies across the state.
In some departments, such as Dakota County Sheriff, Bloomington Police, and the State Troopers, one or two officers were determined to be peering illegally into Rasmusson's file.
Yet others were responsible for huge numbers of illicit searches. Minneapolis police had 24 officers who'd accessed Rasmusson's record 133 times. St. Paul had 42 officers responsible for 175 look-ups. One female cop in St. Paul looked Rasmusson up 30 times over the course of two years.
In Eden Prairie, the audit turned up the names of 10 officers. Wyffels took responsibility for interrogating his own officers over their use of the driver's license database.
Officer Hessel admitted in his interview to accessing Rasmusson's record at a patrol room computer in 2011, saying he wanted to see what she looked like.
"Her name came up in a conversation with other officers," he explained.
The same day, Detective Christopher Millard told Wyffels he'd looked up her record to get her address—the two were old friends, he explained, and using the database was just easier.
A third officer, who in the Eden Prairie investigation files remains unnamed, came forward that day with a more provocative story. He'd been out on patrol when his supervisor called his cell phone.
"I believe that they stated for me to run her," the anonymous officer said.
"For what purpose?" Wyffels asked.
"To look at her picture, um, and this had something, I believe the conversation surrounded plastic surgery that she had done," the cop answered.
"Who has asked you to do that?" Wyffels asked.
"Carter Staaf," the officer replied.
The next day, Sergeant Staaf was in the hot seat. He accounted for 13 direct look-ups over the years. Now Wyffels wanted to know if he was the "Patient Zero" for the data breach in Eden Prairie.
"Would you do it to compare photos?" Wyffels asked Staaf.
"That'd be fair to say that," Staaf answered.
"What would be the reason for doing that?" Wyffels pressed.
"To compare photos, just to see differences," Staaf said.
Exasperated, Wffyels asked, "I mean, there should be a reason why. Either it is for work purpose or it isn't."
"I...I don't believe those are work purposes, no," Staaf conceded.
By the end of three interviews, Staaf said Rasmusson had once been a close friend and that he'd looked her up to see if "she's got a new look."
"Have you ever commented to anybody to look at, to pull up her...or suggested to them to query her photo because she is now very attractive?" Wyffels pressed at one point.
"I would...I mean, that's probably the reason," Staaf stammered, and later on, defeatedly: "I'm giving you my belly...my goal is to stand here and stand accountable for that. I'm happy to take whatever it is."
It ended up being a demotion and a five-day suspension, the harshest penalty that has resulted in the inquiry so far. Hessel and Millard had letters of warning placed in their files. All 10 officers were sent to retraining.