The Montana Department of Justice has issued a sanction letter to the Billings Police Department in response to a police officer’s personal use of the state’s Criminal Justice Information Network.
The letter to Police Chief Rich St. John from Jennifer Viets, CJIN program manager, gives the department 30 days to document what steps have been taken to ensure that there are no further CJIN violations.
The department had already formally reprimanded Officer Grant Morrison for using confidential criminal justice information for his own purposes.
However, as Viets told Last Best News last week, when the BPD first notified the state of the violations, it was stated that Morrison had only requested the information but did not actually receive it.
Viets said a search of CJIN transaction logs showed that Morrison, who called the police department from his home in Laurel, was emailed copies of CJIN information on the morning of Sept. 3 and again that afternoon. But when he called a third time, a little later that afternoon, he was denied access to the information and a supervisor was notified of the activity.
Viets’ letter redacted the names and other information about the people and vehicles Morrison asked for information on, but the “corrective action form” issued to Morrison by the BPD filled in some of those blanks.
That form said Morrison spoke with Officer Robert Ellison, who was working the front desk, and asked for Linda Ramirez’s driver’s license information and photograph. That request was relayed by Ellison to Tressa Huett, a BPD secretary, who emailed the requested information to Morrison.
The letter from the state said Morrison also asked for any information on Ramirez found on state and national “wanted person” files, the state’s sex offender registry and the state’s list of people with concealed weapon permits. But the letter goes on to say that Huett relayed only the driver’s license data and photo.
Linda Ramirez is a cousin of Richard Ramirez, who was shot and killed by Morrison during a traffic stop on April 14, 2014. Morrison, 32, was found by a coroner’s jury to have committed justifiable homicide in that case, as he had been in the fatal shooting of Jason James Shaw in February 2013.
In the second phone call, Morrison asked for a registration check on a vehicle license, and Ellison told him it was registered to a woman whose last name was Nilsen. Morrison told Ellison he thought the driver of the vehicle had been stalking his home in Laurel.
When Morrison called back a third time, it was to ask for all the same information about Nilsen that he had requested about Ramirez. At that point, the letter from Viets says, “Ellison asked the purpose of these queries.”
“Officer Morrison answered honestly,” Viets wrote. “He advised he was checking on a suspicious vehicle near his Laurel home. Officer Morrison advised he wanted to share the information with his wife as she had seen the driver and thought she could possibly identify XXX from a drivers’ license photograph.”
After learning that Morrison wanted the information for personal use, Viets said, Ellison and Huett denied his request and notified their shift supervisor, Sgt. Neil Lawrence. Lawrence called Morrison to say he couldn’t have any CJIN information for personal use, and that he should call the Laurel Police Department to “investigate a suspicious vehicle in their jurisdiction.”
Viets quoted a section of the CJIN Users Guide that says access to and dissemination of CJIN information “is restricted to qualified entities for criminal justice or public safety purposes.”
“While the safety of an officer and his family is an important criminal justice/public safety purpose,” Viets wrote, “the ‘qualified entity’ to request CJIN information under these circumstances was the agency with jurisdiction to investigate, and possibly take further action. Billings Police Sgt. Lawrence was correct, that agency was Laurel Police Department.”
That was the BPD’s first violation. The second was transmitting CJIN information through unencrypted email. Agencies are prohibited from sending such information “to unencrypted, personal e-mail accounts,” Viets said.
Her letter went on to say that CJIN Services acknowledged the efforts made by the BPD “to immediately address the security violation and to take formal, corrective action against Officer Morrison.”
She also said the division “is satisfied that the Billings Police Department has adequately addressed the issue of personal misuse.” However, she continued, the department must, by Dec. 17, file a written response “on what actions have been taken to bring your agency into compliance with the CJIN/NCIC e-mail security requirements.” The NCIC is the National Crime Information Center.
St. John said Wednesday that he has already made an effort to make sure everyone in the department is aware of policies regarding the use of criminal justice information.
“We will be following up with education, refreshers and reminders for the entire staff on proper protocol,” he said.
In addition to the recent written reprimand, which will stay in Morrison’s personnel file for two years, Morrison was issued a similar reprimand in June after Laurel police officers wrote him three citations for keeping pigs, which are prohibited animals, on his property.
In September, Morrison was cited by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for possessing “unlawfully captured deer fawns.” He entered a plea of not guilty in Justice Court. St. John said he will not deal with that issue until the case has been settled.