May 01, 2002
Officer Convicted of Misusing Network
by Darrell Clem
Staff Writer, Hometown Communications Network
A decorated Westland police officer has been convicted of obtaining privileged information from a statewide computer network and illegally turning it over to a friend.
Skender Gocaj, 30, could potentially face a 90-day jail term, but defense attorney Ronald McDuffie said a more likely sentence will be probation or fines.
"It shouldn't be anything severe," McDuffie said.
Gocaj was found guilty Friday by a Westland District Court jury that believed he misused the Law Enforcement Information Network to help a friend whose fiancee had been involved in a traffic dispute.
"The crux of the case was that it was a situation where you had a police officer who had access to privileged information and shared it with someone outside of law enforcement," Westland police Lt. Gary Sikorski said.
Here's an account of what authorities say happened with Gocaj:
His friend's fiancee had a verbal dispute with a 61-year-old man over the way she parked outside a Livonia veterinary clinic last June, and she jotted down his license plate number.
She gave the information to her boyfriend, who turned it over to Gocaj so that he could obtain personal information about the man.
The boyfriend then used the information to contact the man at his home, making what the victim has described as threatening remarks that made him fearful.
A jury convicted Gocaj after deliberating less than a half-hour Friday, capping a two-day trial and ruling against an officer who had received a life-saving award for helping to rescue residents from a burning apartment building in December.
Earlier, Gocaj had taken time off from his job to volunteer for peacekeeping forces in Kosovo - where he has family ties.
Gocaj remains on the job as a Westland police officer, but Deputy Chief Dan Pfannes said he already has been disciplined.
Pfannes said he couldn't disclose specific details of disciplinary actions taken against Gocaj.
McDuffie described Gocaj as a dedicated police officer who had hoped to avoid conviction of the misdemeanor crime.
"He's disappointed, without question," McDuffie said.
The same crime would become a felony on a second offense, authorities said.
Gocaj did what he believed was right when he obtained information for his friend and the friend's fiancee, McDuffie said.
The officer feared that the parking lot dispute, with obscene gestures and shouts, may have involved a man that earlier had stalked his friend's fiancee, according to McDuffie.
Gocaj believed that he might gain information to thwart a possible crime by checking the man's identity, McDuffie said.
Instead, Gocaj, himself, was charged.
"He was darned if he did and darned if he didn't," McDuffie said, adding later, "I don't think it will happen again, that's for sure."
Westland district judges disqualified themselves from Gocaj's case, which was heard in Westland court by visiting Garden City 21st District Judge Richard Hammer Jr.
A sentencing date had not been scheduled.