Six Minneapolis-St. Paul law enforcement officers were so upset at seeing their names in print, they filed a lawsuit against a state agency for releasing their names to a local newspaper.
Now, their names are bound to be published repeatedly on various other news sites and blogs with readerships that extend far beyond the borders of the Twin Cities.
The officers work for various agencies in the area but are members of an anti-gang task force called the Metro Gang Strike Force. In March, they attended an Asian gang conference in Hawaii – a trip that was funded by taxpayers – and reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Now the local police union is suing the Department of Public Safety, the Strike Force and the Strike Force commander who released the names under a public records request, according to the Star-Tribune.
Paul Meskan, Timothy Pinoniemi, Tim Noll, John McManus, John Hankes and Alesia Metry are listed as John Doe 1-5 and Jane Doe on the lawsuit that was filed earlier this month.
The issue raises the question as to whether police officers are different than any other public sector employee, whose names have long been public record. Furthermore, the initial story that published their names was reporting about a trip that was paid for with public funds.
Also, the issue is relevant to those of us who believe we are allowed to photograph police in public. If a judge rules that it was illegal to release their names to a newspaper, then that would make it another step closer to making it illegal to photograph police officers in public.
When I was a cop reporter out west, I would sometimes accompany police officers on raids on the condition that I would not publish photos of undercover officers. Other times, I would show up to a drug bust after hearing about it on the scanner and some of the officers would get nervous about me publishing their pictures. I would always assure them that I would not, just to be cooperative.
But I was under no legal requirement to refrain from taking their photo. And they seemed to know that.
And ultimately, the names of all these officers could already be found on the internet with a simple Google check before the article was even published.
A relatively simple Google search last week quickly yielded references to all six investigators; four were listed as Strike Force members and two as police officers.
Paul Meskan was listed on classmates.com as a member of the Ramsey County sheriff patrol and the Gang Strike Force. His Strike Force affiliation also is included in a Bemidji State newsletter, and he is cited as giving a talk on gangs to a Catholic Church.
Timothy Pinoniemi is listed on the St. Paul Police Historical Society website for getting a medal for a 1997 undercover operation.
Tim Noll is named in the annual report of the Lino Lakes Police as an officer. Alesia Metry is listed on a website as a Strike Force member who donated to a social service agency.
Strike Force officers John McManus and Jon Hankes are mentioned in state appeals court decisions posted on the Internet.
And now that the lawsuit has been filed, any sense of privacy they were seeking has completely vanished.
But maybe it isn’t necessarily privacy they were seeking, but protection.
After all, this same task force is being sued by a man who claims they stole $4,500 from him even though he was never charged with a crime.