Outed Ellsworth airman criticizes police department

2010-03-13T19:59:00Z Outed Ellsworth airman criticizes police departmentThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 13, 2010 7:59 pm  • 

Jene Newsome played by the rules as an Air Force sergeant: She never told anyone in the military she was a lesbian.

"I played by 'don't ask, don't tell,’” Newsome told The Associated Press by telephone.

"I just don't agree with what the Rapid City police department did. ... They violated a lot of internal policies on their end, and I feel like my privacy was violated."

The Rapid City Police Department says Newsome, an aircraft armament system craftsman who spent nine years in the Air Force, was not cooperative when they showed up at her home Nov. 20 with an arrest warrant for her partner, who was wanted on theft charges in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Newsome was at work at the base at the time and refused to immediately come home and assist the officers in finding her partner, whom she married in Iowa -- where gay marriage is legal -- in October.

The 28-year-old's honorable discharge under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy came only after police officers alerted the base.

The license was relevant to the investigation because it showed both the relationship and residency of the two women, police Chief Steve Allender said in a statement sent to the AP.

"It's an emotional issue, and it's unfortunate that Newsome lost her job, but I disagree with the notion that our department might be expected to ignore the license, or not document the license or withhold it from the Air Force once we did know about it," Allender said Saturday. "It was a part of the case, part of the report, and the Air Force was privileged to the information."

Newsome, who was discharged in January, said she didn't know where the marriage license was in her home when police came to her house Nov. 20 and claims the officers were retaliating because she wouldn't help with her partner's arrest.

Newsome's partner is out on bail on one felony and three misdemeanor counts of theft stemming from an incident last year, court officials in Fairbanks, Alaska, said. More information was not immediately available, and Newsome said she didn't know the status of the case and didn't provide more details about it.

Newsome and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a complaint against the Rapid City police department, claiming the officers violated her privacy when they informed the military about her sexual orientation.

In the complaint, filed last month with the department, ACLU South Dakota said police had no legal reason to tell the military Newsome was a lesbian and that officers knew if they did, it would jeopardize her military career.

"This information was intentionally turned over because of 'don't ask, don't tell' and to out Jene so that she would lose her military status," said Robert Doody, executive director of ACLU South Dakota. The ACLU is focusing its complaint on the police department, not the military, and Newsome said she and her attorney have not yet decided on whether to file a lawsuit.

"The 'don't ask, don't tell' piece is important and critical to this, but also it's a police misconduct case," Doody said.

Allender said his department does not seek to expose gay military personnel or investigate the sexuality of Rapid City residents.

Allender said the department was finishing its internal investigation and has determined the officers acted appropriately. They have not been placed on leave during the investigation.

The case also highlights concerns over the ability of third parties to "out" service members, especially as the Pentagon has started reviewing the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law.

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy has come under renewed debate after Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for a sweeping internal study on the law earlier this year.

As the review is under way, officials were also expected to suggest ways to relax enforcement that may include minimizing cases of third-party outings. In particular, Gates has suggested that the military might not have to expel someone whose sexual orientation was revealed by a third party out of vindictiveness or suspect motives.

Senior Airman Adam Grant, a U.S. Air Force spokesman, said Ellsworth follows all laws set out by Congress and the Defense Department, and he would not comment specifically on Newsome's discharge, citing privacy policy.

More than 13,500 service members have been discharged under the law since 1994, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is lobbying for its repeal. Kevin Nix, communications director of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, couldn't speak about Newsome's case but said when "someone is outed by a third party, which it sounds like this was, or by a police officer, then, yeah ... I'm not surprised the person was discharged."

Though rare, third-party outing can be especially damaging to service members who wanted to keep their sexual orientation hidden, experts say.

Even though 80 percent of "don't ask, don't tell" discharges come from gay and lesbian service members who out themselves, third-party outings are "some of the most heinous instances of 'don't, ask, don't tell,’” said Nathaniel Frank, a research fellow with the Palm Center think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a New York University professor.

Newsome, who is originally from Harrisburg, Pa., is currently on the road, driving to Alaska. She said she had been looking forward to the time when the military would alter its policies regarding gays and lesbians. But that change didn't come in time to save her career.

"I felt like it was getting close," she said. "I was really hopeful."


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. Daniel
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    Daniel - March 18, 2010 1:19 pm
    Think about this before you judge. The Rapid City Police can't base their investigation on the fact that the Air Force has a don't-ask don't-tell policy. If someone the police are looking for and have a warrent for is married to anyone at the airforce base, same sex or not, the police obviously need to follow that lead to find the person. There can't be a double standard here where people who are in same sex marriages get preferential treatment. More wasted money that us taxpayers have to cover.
  2. Pavlov
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    Pavlov - March 16, 2010 8:52 pm
    Henry Juhala, you hit the nail on the head. I hope to heaven she sues, I think this needs to be addressed!
  3. Rush Mountmore
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    Rush Mountmore - March 15, 2010 3:04 pm
    The article states "Newsome's partner is out on bail on one felony and three misdemeanor counts of theft stemming from an incident last year, court officials in Fairbanks, Alaska, said. More information was not immediately available, and Newsome said she didn't know the status of the case and didn't provide more details about it."

    Sounds like being a lesbian was easier than coping to "aiding and abetting a fleeing felon".
  4. PalinLies
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    PalinLies - March 14, 2010 4:17 pm
    What is important is the quality and consistency of her on-the-job performance. Nothing else. There is not a single person on this Earth who is perfect in the eyes of all others. Judge not lest ye be judged.
  5. DouglasE
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    DouglasE - March 14, 2010 10:38 am
    The marriage license is proof that this person was violating the military rules of which she promised to uphold. I do believe that should a living condition change for a military member (i.e. marriage, divorce, etc.) that the member is required to notify their superiors of said change. This individual didn't do that either. Also by having both her and her partner/wife flaunt this so openly on their respective Facebook pages shows that they weren't too worried about their privacy or her military career. If she was so worried about her career she would have done everything possible to get the DADT clause removed and then married her partner.
  6. mollys
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    mollys - March 14, 2010 10:12 am
    Just another reason that 'Don't ask, Don't tell' is a waste of time for this country's military. Instead of focusing on the work that an individual does while servicing in the military, we are instead looking at what they do in their personal life. No heterosexual goes through that much scrutiny. Sounds like another case of discrimination by the RC police and the U.S.A.F.
  7. rfoeh
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    rfoeh - March 14, 2010 10:01 am
    Now the Rapid City Police Department have taken on the role of Sex Police. Be careful of what you do since the police may be looking into your window. They can give no justafible reason why they had to notify the airforce of her sexual orientation.

    I hope that they do get sued and that she wins. This does not speak well for Rapid City, SD
  8. procrastonator
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    procrastonator - March 14, 2010 8:00 am
    Well said, Henry. I hope you post to the AP story as well. 3,965 comments and still counting.
  9. Henry Juhala
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    Henry Juhala - March 14, 2010 4:28 am
    Local, state and federal governments in South Dakota cannot have it both ways. Either civil gay marriage licenses, which are recognized as legal and valid in other states, are equally recognized as legal in South Dakota OR they are not. At present they are NOT. As regards this case, that should have been the END OF STORY.

    Since neither South Dakota nor the federal military recognizes a same-gender marriage license issued in Iowa, conversely they absolutely had no valid nor justifiable reason for using it as legally binding evidence in the pursuit of this case. The law specifically states that only marriage of one man and one woman is recognized as legal in South Dakota. Thus, the document as “supposedly” seen through the window, and offered as evidence in presentation to military officers, is not a valid or legally recognized document in South Dakota. Isn’t that exactly what the voters of South Dakota decided when they voted against the constitutional rights of gays in South Dakota to legally marry. They wanted absolutely NO (NONE - NADA) legal recognition of gay marriage in the state. Yet here we have law officer of the state claiming just the opposite.

    It is convenient (and likely unconstitutional) for South Dakota and the federal government to ignore the Full Faith and Credit Clause when it comes to denying the benefits, rights and responsibilities of otherwise legally married gay couples when it seems in the best interest of the government’s corporate animus to do so. But, once they have denied such benefits they cannot, then, turn around and claim the validity of the same document. They cannot use an otherwise unrecognized document as evidence in a legal investigation just because it happens to serve their own purposes to do so. Nor can they use a legal term for a spouse such as “wife” in legal documentation against an airman if such a legal recognition does not exist by the state.

    Police officers are sworn to uphold the laws of South Dakota. South Dakota law denies the validity of an Iowa marriage license issued to same-gender couples. However, Rapid City police officers purposely broke South Dakota law and decided to use as evidence an invalid marriage license (in the eyes of South Dakota) that may also have been part of an illegal (at least unethical) discovery process. Furthermore they purposely did it in violation of the “Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell” policy of the federal government in regards to it's military personnel when they included information related to it in an official notification to the military regarding this case. Having a same-gender marriage license from another state is NOT illegal. It is NOT a crime. It is only not recognized as a valid legal document in South Dakota. As such, there was no legally binding reason to use it as evidence in this case. Any legal proceedings that followed the discovery of said document and which may have been based on evidence originating with said discovery become themselves invalid. That is a key difference the police and military seem to misunderstand in this case.

    Furthermore, they decided to use the discovery of the marriage license as evidence in a pursuit to seek to “out” the airman. If their purpose was not to out the airman, what then did they hope to obtain by commenting to the military regarding the marriage license and referring to the spouse as “wife“? The police officers knew exactly what the consequences would be by going to the military with what information they knew. And we now know the threat of those consequences have come to fruition. As such, the actions of the police department are unconscionable and unpardonable. They need to be held to account for actions which specifically denied another U.S. citizen their constitutional rights and their livelihood. As such, in my opinion, a suit against the department and the particular police personnel involved in this matter is clearly justified.

    In the future, both South Dakota and the military are only going to face constant and expensive battles such as this when they continue to ignore the Constitutional rights of their gay sons and lesbian daughters. But, there is a simple solution. We all know what it is. First, adopt the Employment Non-Discrimination (ENDA) law on the federal level immediately. It is already written -- just waiting to be voted on. Second, rescind the policy of Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell (DADT) now. There is no viable reason for not implementing it’s repeal immediately, other than homophobia of senior military officers -- all the more reason it should be implemented immediately. Lastly, rescind the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) immediately and go a further step by making marriage equality legal for gays and lesbians in South Dakota and at the federal level. If the term “marriage” is such an important small ‘g” idol to those of you who are Christian, then give it another term if you like. But, make it equal for ALL citizens of the USA. Under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution and other legal decrees at various state and federal levels there is no other right, fair and just alternative. Do it. Do it now.
  10. rocowoman
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    rocowoman - March 14, 2010 3:14 am
    Okay so just my opinion, but I am certainly not prejiduce in any way, but if you are set on having a military career, and you know that the military has implemented "Don't ask/Don't tell, then isnt it really pushing your luck to get married to the same sex, knowing that at any time the military can access those records. Even had the police dept. not reported this, if indeed an investigation to find this airmans "wife" was done, there is a good chance this "evidence" would have been brought to light.
    Now lets look at the other issue... you are in the military, in which you are taught to uphold the law, and you are making an investigation diffacult, and there is a possibility you are bringing a felon, and known criminal on a military base??? Hmmm I don't know if I would have kept you in the military either, just based on really poor judgement!
  11. giggitygoo
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    giggitygoo - March 14, 2010 1:50 am
    Although this is an unfortunate event, law enforcement did no wrong. They had a warrant for Ms. Newsome's partner and their relationship is relevant to the case. As far as law enforcement needing a warrant, they do not-it is called the "plain view doctrine". It did not matter if it was the PD who saw the marriage license through the window. It could have been any third party that may have saw the license and reported it to Ellsworth.
  12. tucker
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    tucker - March 13, 2010 10:24 pm
    This misfortunate event is now in most papers online in the country. I guess we at least still have free speach in this country, its just so sad that ones rights can so easily be abused. I hope that she sues the Rapid City Police Force for the damage that has been done!
  13. meljos
    Report Abuse
    meljos - March 13, 2010 9:44 pm
    So, police officers can look in your windows and run and tell your employers what they see?! Even if it's not YOU in trouble or have a warrant? Even if you haven't done a thing to violate the law, sitting at work, minding your own business, serving your country......Geez. What's the matter with you people?
  14. annie
    Report Abuse
    annie - March 13, 2010 8:09 pm
    Obv, they didn't feel like I do? "live and let live", they wanted to make trouble for her. this is not the SD way is it??? Shame on the Police dept in RC
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