Court Upholds Sentence For Ex-Cop Who Abused Law Enforcement Database Access

from the officer-unicorn dept

If asset forfeiture is just cops shopping for things they want, what is unauthorized access of law enforcement databases for personal reasons? Shopping for women? (h/t Eric Goldman)

The evidence indicated that defendant's login was used when information regarding LM, CG, and GL was accessed.

LM testified that she met defendant through her job at a flower shop, and they dated for approximately two months. She never asked defendant to look up her driving or criminal records. However, defendant admitted to her that he "ran her name" and, during the search, learned of an accident in which she was involved. CG testified that she became acquainted with defendant because he frequented a bar where she worked. On one occasion, after CG and defendant had exchanged messages on Facebook, defendant gave her a ride home from a bar when she was intoxicated. Subsequently, she asked defendant to search her driving record, testifying at trial that she asked him to do so for her own personal use and gain. GL testified that she dated defendant "on and off" between 2009 and 2011. There is no indication that she ever asked defendant to search her driving record, and she was never stopped by defendant in a law enforcement capacity.
The defendant, Taylor (MI) police officer Michael Calabrese, was originally charged with 11 counts of misusing the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN). This makes Calabrese somewhat of an anomaly. While every user of the LEIN is warned that improper access could result in criminal charges, this almost never actually happens. Suspensions may be handed out, but they tend to be minimal (three days at most). Others just receive written reprimands. Someone actually convicted of abusive access is a rarity.

Calabrese appealed his convictions on several grounds, one of them being a lack of evidence. The Michigan Court of Appeals isn't sympathetic.
Despite the absence of direct eyewitness testimony that defendant searched the women's names on the LEIN, there is ample circumstantial evidence that he was the individual who performed the searches, as the queries at issue were performed using defendant's unique login. Although there was testimony that a LEIN search could be performed using another officer’s login information, such a search was against police department policy and occurred only under exceptional circumstances, such as during a situation when officer safety was at risk. In these instances, there is no evidence that suggests that the LEIN searches giving rise to defendant’s convictions were necessary for officer safety.

[...]

On this record, even though the prosecution did not present a witness who observed defendant performing the searches or who had personal knowledge of defendant's specific intent when the searches were performed, there was sufficient circumstantial evidence for the jury to reasonably infer that defendant intentionally ran the searches for his own personal benefit, as the searches were made using his login information and involved women with whom he had a personal connection.
The verdict and sentence former officer Calabrese was challenging wasn't much. Of the eleven charges, only three misdemeanor counts stuck. Calabrese will now have to serve one year probation and pay $1,600 in fines. The probation time will be cut in half if Calabrese's payments remain on track. The punishment from the court doesn't amount to much. It's the loss of his law enforcement position that will probably hurt Calabrese more, but that may only last as long as his probation does. Law enforcement agencies have proven more willing to forgive and forget than the private sector, which often refuses to employ ex-cons under any circumstances.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2016 @ 5:01am

    Wait a minute .. unique login is circumstantial?
    If it wasn't him then he either shared his login or the system was hacked.

    Ohhhh - they do share login - on a system that is stated to contain sensitive information and is supposedly protected against abuse. I think they need a refresher course on system security procedures along with denial of access until they comply with requirements. In many other jobs, this would be grounds for dismissal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2016 @ 7:08am

      Re:

      Plausible Deniability.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2016 @ 7:46am

      Re:

      I suspect police are being trained to abuse and harass citizens not the whole serve and protect it used to be.

      Conditioning the population to fear the hand of the police. AS a fearful population is a well behaved population. Such is the mantra of a police state. None of that silly nonsense about citizens having rights or innocent until proven guilty.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Eldakka (profile), 8 May 2016 @ 5:30pm

      Re:

      Login information is circumstantial evidence. It is not proof of anything apart from whose login details were used, not who actually did the logging in.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 6 May 2016 @ 5:38am

    What if . . .

    What if, each database request required a case number or numbers that this request is related to?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 6 May 2016 @ 7:06am

      Re: What if . . .

      That and the accesses made public after the trial is concluded.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        DannyB (profile), 6 May 2016 @ 11:02am

        Re: Re: What if . . .

        That and an automated FOIA system that would disclose, without human intervention, for an individual officer, which database access requests they have made (for closed cases).

        That would make it easy to look for patterns of abuse. An officer could be found out if he snooped on any of his:
        * family
        * neighbors
        * ex boyfriends
        * people unrelated to the case number used in the request

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2016 @ 6:17am

    We live in a world where an IP address in incontrovertible evidence that a single individual committed an act of Piracy, but a unique login to to a database is "circumstantial"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 6 May 2016 @ 11:04am

      Re:

      Yet the improper database access could result in real personal harm to someone.

      The act of piracy does not even result in a 'lost sail', or any other lost boating related items.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2016 @ 7:33am

    It's not the probation, or the fine, or the loss of his job that is the primary effect. We've seen where a cop will go one jurisdiction over and get a new job. It's the "paying the lawyer to defend you" that's gotta hurt the most.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 6 May 2016 @ 11:37am

    Ex-con not so much

    Law enforcement agencies have proven more willing to forgive and forget than the private sector, which often refuses to employ ex-cons under any circumstances.
    "Ex-con" (ex-convict) usually refers to felony convictions and people who were imprisoned.

    He was convicted of a misdemeanor and no jail, so most organizations would not consider him an ex-con. (If misdemeanor convictions make people ex-cons, then they would be unemployable after misdemeanor speeding tickets.)

    What is worth thinking about is whether or not a civilian would have gotten the same cushy deal. As I recall, Aaron Swartz was looking at 35 years for no fraud and much less abuse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    The Unidentified, 12 May 2017 @ 10:57am

    Unfair Treatment

    His Law Enforcement career may be over in the State of Michigan, but that does not mean it's completely over period. Departments in other states use completely different databases than Michigan. Therefore, he could gain employment with another Department in another state and get retrained to use their computerized data system.

    Other Police Departments will and could understand his conviction because every cop knows that it is a B*ll S**t charge. So many cops across the US have misused their data base privileges at least once. It just all depends on what you do with the information... For Example

    Did he use anyone's Social Security numbers for Identity Theft? NO. Did he steal any money from any of the people that he looked up? NO. Therefore, he did not gain any benefit of looking them up.

    If they are going to convict 1 cop for it, they need to convict every cop for it.

    I hope this man lands another Law Enforcement job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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