Privacy vs. public safety at issue in ex-cop’s suit against Navy
WASHINGTON — Former Charleston, S.C., police Officer Timothy M. Reed mobilized for war, more than once. Then the Navy shared some sensitive information and he was out of a job.
Now the resident of Goose Creek, S.C., is in federal court in Washington, challenging the military he once served. Money and several reputations are on the line, in a case that’s been given new life.
“It really has cost him his job as a police officer,” David Sheldon, Reed’s attorney, said of the Navy’s actions, adding that Reed may “not be employable again” in a police department.
Reed’s legal dispute, moreover, underscores the potential tensions between privacy rights and public protection, as well as the problems that can result when reservists return from the fight. More than 815,000 members of the National Guard and reserves, like Reed, have been mobilized since 2001. Every one has had to re-enter civilian life, sometimes with complications.
Reed, who was honorably discharged after 18 years of active-duty and reserve service, has alleged that Navy officials violated his privacy by telling the Charleston Police Department about an episode in which he was disciplined and underwent a psychological evaluation. He subsequently resigned from the police department in 2009, a move he now says he felt unjustly pressured to make.
“The Navy,” Sheldon said, “seems to have a serious problem complying with the Privacy Act.”
The legal question is whether Navy officials violated the federal law meant to protect sensitive personal information. Generally, personnel records can’t be disclosed without the individual’s consent, but there are exceptions for law enforcement purposes.
Reed is asking for $950,000 in damages and he’s said he also wants Navy officials disciplined. The Navy, represented by the Justice Department, denies all his charges.
Reed filed a related suit against the city of Charleston, but he dropped it in June on the eve of a jury trial in South Carolina. City officials say he misled them about what happened to him in the service.
A federal judge in Washington, though, agreed Oct. 19 to let Reed’s case against the Navy proceed. The police department’s internal affairs investigation of Reed “might never have been opened if (a Navy official) had not made the initial disclosures,” U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle wrote.
Huvelle’s ruling set the stage for a trial to begin Monday.
Reed, who couldn’t be reached to comment, joined the Navy in November 1990. He trained as a master at arms, or law enforcement specialist, and carried the work into the civilian sector when he was hired as a Charleston police officer in 2000 while serving in the reserves. In the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Reed was mobilized three times. Each time, after being demobilized, he returned to police duty.
In January 2009, Reed was mobilized a fourth time for an expected yearlong service in Iraq. He left to train at the Army’s Fort Lewis, in Washington state, where things didn’t go well.
While at Fort Lewis, Reed was accused of pointing his M-16 rifle at two airmen and pointing a spring-loaded, serrated knife at a third trainee. Reed called the charges “lies and fabrications,” according to court documents.
A senior Navy enlisted man contacted the Charleston Police Department about the case and alarmed Reed’s civilian supervisors.
For Reed’s alleged actions at Fort Lewis, the Navy reduced his rank from E-6 to E-5, or petty officer second class. He was also demobilized early, leading him back to his old job in Charleston. Police department officials, though, initiated an internal affairs investigation into Reed’s conduct. He resigned, but then tried quickly — without success — to retract his resignation.
The Navy says that any information that a command master chief named David Carter shared with the Charleston Police Department was fully justified.
“If Carter disclosed Reed’s then-alleged misconduct to (Charleston), a local law enforcement agency, as part of his attempt to verify Reed’s employment and disciplinary history, Carter did so for the purpose of making the important decision whether to mobilize or demobilize Reed as an active duty reservist … whose deployment would have put him in charge of a number of junior sailors assigned to serve as detention facility guards,” Justice Department attorney John Interrante wrote in a brief.
Interrante said Reed’s decision to resign “was freely made rather than forced.”