03/21/2010

SD chief: Police followed rules in outing lesbian sergeant

Officers 'followed protocol' when they outed a lesbian sergeant after searching her home

Associated Press

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Rapid City's police chief said in a report released Friday that he regrets his department's outing of a lesbian Air Force sergeant led to her military discharge, but that his officers followed department protocol.

Chief Steve Allender said the Rapid City Police Department will review policies on sharing information with other agencies and meet with members of the gay and lesbian community in the wake of Jene Newsome's honorable discharge under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"I trust through discussion and cooperation we can enjoy a mutual goal of healing and understanding," Allender wrote in the report.

The January discharge came after Rapid City officers saw an Iowa marriage certificate in her home and told officials at the nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the department claiming the officers violated Newsome's privacy.

Rapid City police have said Newsome, an aircraft armament system craftsman who spent nine years in the Air Force, was not cooperative when officers showed up at her home in November with an arrest warrant for her wife, who was wanted on theft charges in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Police officers spotted the marriage license on the kitchen table through a window and alerted the base. Allender said the license was relevant to the investigation because it showed both the relationship and residency of the two women.

While Allender said the officers acted appropriately under department policy because Newsome was suspected of harboring a fugitive, he added there's is no way of knowing for sure whether the officers did so with ill intent.

"There have been public accusations that the detective released the information regarding sexual orientation out of vengeance or for punitive effect," Allender wrote. "I cannot know what is in the hearts of people or what truly motivates them, but I am very concerned with how emotions, prejudices, political or religious views may affect the decisions made by not only our officers, but all people in government positions."

ACLU South Dakota executive director Robert Doody said the police chief's report clearly shows that his department turned over the information contained in the marriage certificate knowing it would lead to Newsome's dismissal under the military's 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The detective "had an idea it would be detrimental to (Newsome's) career," Doody said.

Earlier Friday, Doody e-mailed a letter to Rapid City Mayor Alan Hanks asking for unspecified monetary damages to compensate Newsome for her military career. It also sought an apology, a written reprimand for the officers involved in her outing and a police policy stating the department will not seek to out military members.

Doody told The Associated Press the exact amount of the compensation was being calculated, but estimated it at roughly $800,000. A message left late Friday with Hanks' office was not immediately returned.

Newsome's discharge has highlighted concerns over the ability of third parties to "out" service members, especially as the Pentagon has started reviewing the "don't ask, don't tell" law.

She has since moved to the Fairbanks, Alaska, area.

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