Vermont court gives newspaper access to records
RUTLAND (AP) -- The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling giving the Rutland Herald newspaper access to records connected to an investigation into the Rutland city police officers who were disciplined for viewing and sending pornography at work.
The justices denied an appeal by the city, which raised concerns about the privacy rights of city employees.
The Rutland Herald first sought the records three years ago after an investigation into former Sgt. David Schauwecker, who was charged with two misdemeanors and fired. The Rutland Herald reports that State Police could not prove the pornographic images that they say they found on Schauwecker’s work computers were child pornography.
He pleaded no contest to a neglect of duty charge.
Police disclosed in 2010 that two other officers had been disciplined for viewing pornography. The newspaper sought documents related to the case and the trial court found that the interest in disclosure heavily outweighed any privacy interests that the employees had in their actions and identities, the Supreme Court said. The city appealed that decision to the Vermont Supreme Court, which agreed with the lower court.
"As the trial court found, there is a significant public interest in knowing how the police department supervises its employees and responds to allegations of misconduct. This is particularly true given the repeated instances of similar misconduct within the police department over a five-year period, as well as the apparent scope of the misconduct," the court said.
Internal investigation records reveal that one employee downloaded between 5,000 to 10,000 pornographic images onto his work computer, including possible child pornography, the court said. State Police investigated and decided they lacked sufficient evidence to charge the officer.
"One cannot reasonably expect a high level of privacy in viewing and sending pornography on work computers while on duty at a public law enforcement agency," the court said.
The Rutland Herald said Friday that it is petitioning the city for the records. The city attorney did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
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