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Personal information on pair of Milwaukee officers ended up inside state prison

By John Diedrich
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MILWAUKEE A federal lawsuit claims the Milwaukee Police Department released private information about two detectives, including home phone numbers and children's names, that ended up in the state's highest-security prison.

The suit, filed Friday against Chief Nannette Hegerty and the city, says that the constitutional rights of detectives Britt Kohnert and Robert Rehbein were violated when in June the department wrongly released extensive personal information about them. The Milwaukee Police Association, the union that represents officers, also sued.

City Attorney Grant Langley said Friday he hadn't seen the suit and couldn't comment. A police spokeswoman did not return a call for comment.

According to the lawsuit:

Kohnert and Rehbein arrested Michael D. Sykes, 28, on drug and gun charges in August of 2006. The charges against Sykes, who was on probation at the time he was arrested, are pending.

Last April, Lori Kuehn began representing Sykes and in June she requested all personnel information about the detectives.

While some information about officers' employment is public record, the department, by law, does not release certain information such as home phone numbers and addresses. However, Kuehn received that and much more.

The lawsuit says the release also included email addresses, names, ages and dates of birth for family members, work ID numbers, driver's license information and the detectives' pre-employment background screening. The detectives were not notified.

"What was released was just everything," said the detectives' attorney, Rachel Pings of Cermele & Associates.

Kuehn, who didn't return a call for comment Friday and is no longer representing Sykes, sent the information to Sykes, who was in the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel, the suit says. The prison was formerly known as Supermax Correctional Institution.

Prison guards learned Sykes had the information and seized it, Pings said. The detectives still don't know if the information was passed to other inmates or anyone else, she said, and she declined to say whether her clients were contacted in any way as a result of the release of the information.

But they are concerned about the safety of their families, she said.

"How in the world does that information get released about police officers who deal with violent offenders every day?" Pings said. "It was a really big mistake, careless and negligent and it violated the Constitution."

Copyright 2007 The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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