SD dept. tweaks policy after 'outing' lesbian officer
New policy calls for the records custodian to review reports before release to military officials
By Timberly Ross
A South Dakota police department has changed its policy for releasing information to the military following the outing of a lesbian Air Force sergeant that led to her discharge.
Rapid City police chief Steve Allender said he still believes his officers acted appropriately in sharing information about Jene Newsome with nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, but the policy change will allow better evaluation of what information is released going forward.
"The reason for the change is not to remedy a wrongdoing," he said. "The release of the report was permissible, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve how we do things when the opportunity presents itself."
The new policy calls for the department's records custodian to review reports before they're released to military officials. Previously, any officer could release information.
Newsome was discharged from the military in January under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Rapid City police officers had seen an Iowa marriage certificate in her home and told Ellsworth officials.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the department claiming the officers violated Newsome's privacy.
Allender has said he regrets Newsome was discharged, but the department's internal investigation found no wrongdoing. He alluded to a possible policy change in a report released last month.
ACLU South Dakota executive director Robert Doody said the change shows officers violated the rules.
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 has said the license was relevant to the investigation because it showed both the relationship and residency of the two women.
The ACLU has not ruled out a lawsuit against the police department.
Doody said the city has not responded to a request for a settlement for Newsome. It seeks unspecified monetary damages to compensate Newsome for her military career -- estimated at roughly $800,000. It also seeks 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.
Newsome's discharge has highlighted concerns over the ability of third parties to "out" service members, especially as the Pentagon has started reviewing the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law.
She has since moved to the Fairbanks, Alaska, area.
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