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Monday, August 27, 2012

The Facts

I wrote an editorial for today's Duluth News Tribune regarding a series of articles they printed regarding our release of information in the Kerry Gauthier case. 

Here is my editorial:

The recent case involving state Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, brought attention to the public release of criminal investigation data. When we at the Duluth Police Department investigate a sex crime, we treat the case as not public during the investigation. Information intentionally or accidentally released to the public at that point could negatively damage the investigation in a variety of ways, as well as impact witness, victim and suspect statements. The data of an active criminal investigation are deemed, according to data privacy law, as private and not public.

When our investigation into the Gauthier case was complete, it became public, and records associated with the case were released. We consulted with legal counsel throughout this case, as we knew our actions would be highly scrutinized.   Attorneys consulted at the time of a News Tribune request for information explicitly told us Gauthier’s name and investigative data were not to be considered public at that point.

An issue that became the focus of News Tribune reports was a feature with our records system that can limit access to a case being treated as non-public, allowing access only to those investigating or supervising the case. This is done in police-record systems to ensure data we consider non-public does not get released until absolutely appropriate.In some criminal cases, if non-public data is released, it could cause irreparable damage to the case.  Another example of where this feature was used involved a recently solved St. Louis County homicide case, in which witness safety was of great concern. The witnesses were scared for their lives. If their names were released they faced the potential for serious harm.  Keep in mind our records system users are from agencies from Pine County to Ely. There probably are close to 1,000 users. A case is team-protected only during the time the case is deemed non-public. When the case reaches the threshold of being public, the case is viewable by everyone. The issue brought forth by the News Tribune had absolutely no bearing on the release of the case information.

We did a thorough job of investigating the Gauthier incident and provided the case information as soon as the investigation was completed, which was three weeks after the Minnesota State Patrol asked us to investigate.

The Duluth Police Department takes great pride in the support and respect we have in our community. This is not a given, but has been earned through our commitment to service and transparency. News Tribune writer Brandon Stahl reported the incident in a manner that put into question our organizational integrity. Mischaracterizations and the absence of crucial facts were major errors in Stahl’s reporting. Articles may have misled readers into believing there was an attempt to cover up this incident. That could not be further from the truth.

The coverage suggested we didn’t release public information because of Rep. Gauthier’s position. Our decision was based on the determination made by our legal counsel that Gauthier’s name and case data not be treated as public at that point during the investigation.  We would welcome any unbiased review of the facts of this case, and we know it would lead to no other conclusion than we acted with absolute integrity and within the guidelines of the law.

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