The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is asking Rapid City to pay a lesbian Air Force sergeant as much as $800,000 to compensate for financial losses it said she will suffer because she was discharged after police informed the military she is married to a woman.
Jene Newsome was honorably discharged after Rapid City police notified the Air Force of her marriage. Newsome said nothing will compensate her for what she has lost.
"There is not going to be any amount of money that will ever compare to a 20-year career and my sense of self and service serving my country," Newsome said from Fairbanks, Alaska, where she is staying with family.
"I'm very proud of my career and what I did," Newsome said. "I was good at it, and it was a great career."
The discharge followed a Rapid City police detective's Nov. 24 fax asking the Office of Special Investigations to review a police account of the arrest of Cheryl Hutson on Nov. 20 for an Alaskan fugitive warrant for grand theft. The fax noted that Newsome was "very uncooperative" in responding to officers' request for assistance in "contacting her spouse, Cheryl Hutson."
The ACLU sent an e-mail with its demands to Mayor Alan Hanks and members of the city council on Friday a few hours before Police Chief Steve Allender released an eight-page report of an internal investigation prompted by the complaint filed Feb. 8.
Hanks said it is unusual that the ACLU issued its demands before the report was released. Hanks said he had not seen the report and would reserve comment until after reading it.
Allender's report concludes that the ACLU complaint is unfounded because the police officers followed department policies.
In addition to financial compensation for Newsome's lost wages and benefits, the ACLU wants an apology to Newsome for the disclosure of her private information to the Air Force; a police department policy regarding privacy and prohibiting officers from releasing information to the Air Force with specific reference to any information about a person's sexual orientation, and a written reprimand for the officers involved.
Rapid City police have a long-standing practice of sharing information with Air Force members who are arrested, according to Allender's summary of the investigation.
Allender says Newsome became a subject of a criminal investigation for harboring a fugitive after officers spotted a marriage certificate on a kitchen table when they looked through the window of the home Newsome shared with Hutson. Up to that point, Newsome's reluctance to assist the officers was attributed to the women being roommates, according to the report.
Allender acknowledged that police detective Tom Garinger forwarded the report to the Air Force without discussing the appropriateness of sharing the information. Garinger sent the report to the Air Force so the military could evaluate Newsome for possible criminal conduct, according to the report.
As an Air Force veteran, Garinger had a "good idea" that the information would cause the sergeant problems, according to Allender.
Any personal feelings Garinger might have about Newsome's sexuality are immaterial because he followed department policy in reporting the incident to the Air Force, Allender wrote.
Allender goes on to question Newsome's conduct by not only keeping her sexual orientation and marriage a secret from the Air Force but also by not by not cooperating with police officers.
"Sgt. Newsome is responsible for her own actions, and on the same note, we will be responsible for ours," Allender said.
Allender said his department will begin an immediate review of all polices related to the exchange of information with other agencies, including a separate policy concerning the sharing of information with the military. He said he also will form an advisory council composed of members of the gay and lesbian community who will advise the department on how it can better serve its community.
Robert Doody, executive director of ACLU in South Dakota, said Allender's report will not derail ACLU's efforts to represent Newsome.
"Indeed, the report clearly affirms what we had argued all along -- that the information regarding the marriage certificate was intentionally turned over by the Rapid City Police Department."
When the report was sent to the Air Force, it made no accusations of a crime, Doody said.
"No options have been taken off the table," said Doody, who insists that Garinger knew the report would cause problems for Newsome.