SBI officials used criminal database improperly

cross-posted (in slightly edited form) at dKos

The State Bureau of Investigation is under fire again. Turns out two senior agency officials improperly used the state and federal criminal database, known as the Department of Criminal Information (DCI) network.

Jerry Ratley, the former assistant director who oversaw the network, used it to snoop on his ex-wife, her co-workers, her husband, the wife of an SBI agent and others, records reviewed by The News & Observer show. Wendy Brinkley, who is directly responsible for policing and maintaining the network, used it to track her stepson's case in the courts, the records show.

How serious is this? Federal and state law both state in no uncertain terms that the network is not for personal use. Police officers and sheriff's deputies caught misusing this information can be brought up on criminal charges.

Over two years, Ratley ran dozens of checks on the network that were in no way related to law enforcement or criminal justice. He used it to run background checks on potential employees and volunteers at his church in Wilson (east of Raleigh); cops aren't allowed to run background checks. He was forced into retirement when another SBI assistant director got suspicious about his use of the system and ordered an investigation. More than a year later, his ex-wife's new husband found out Ratley had run a check on him and complained. The SBI did another review of Ratley's use of the network, and found misuse serious enough that it referred the case to the Wake County DA. However, the DA didn't press charges.

Apparently the SBI has found police departments and sheriff's departments in compliance with the rules, only to have the FBI come in and find problems. For instance, after the SBI certified that the Alamance County sheriff's department was in compliance with the rules, the FBI found out two domestic violence coordinators had been running unauthorized queries. Both were fired on the spot.

Disturbing to say the least. It also says a lot about the SBI's culture that this is occurring. As I said last summer, the only long-term solution is to place the SBI under court supervision.