Police chief regrets search of reporter's phone recordsby Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
The chief of the St. Paul Police Department said he regrets the search of a news reporter's phone records. The department's action caused concern that the police were overstepping their constitutional boundaries.
St. Paul, Minn. — A routine request for police records last summer led to a search warrant for the phone records of a Twin Cities television reporter.
St. Paul Police officials say Fox 9 News reporter Tom Lyden was not the focus of a criminal investigation, but they do admit they got a search warrant for his phone records.
Police say they were concerned with how Lyden got the information for a news story that they had refused to give him.
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said he regrets that Lyden got swept up in the investigation into someone else's action. But Harrington said no laws were broken.
"We did all the right things in terms of all the legal things to get a search warrant, to have a judge sign it, do all those other things," said Harrington. "I think that shows that we weren't doing anything underhanded, we weren't trying to be secretive. We were just simply trying to go through what we think of as a normal investigative process."
The records Lyden was seeking were public information. But Harrington said police didn't realize that at the time.
He said Lyden's phone records were searched only after his number turned up in the search of the phone records of a Ramsey County Sheriff's deputy. Police say it appears that the deputy gave Lyden the public records he originally wanted from the St. Paul police.
Critics say the police department's actions amounted to an attack on the independence of the media. The president of the national Society of Professional Journalists, Clint Brewer, said this case is filled with irony.
"You had a police agency pursuing records that were lawfully obtained, pursuing the source of records that were lawfully obtained," Brewer said. "While it's a little more nuanced and odd of a situation, it still is part of a trend in this country, which is going after the notes and the records of members of the media."
For his part, Lyden said he's still not entirely satisfied with the St. Paul Police Department's response.
"It's a good first step that they acknowledge that this was a public document. But I think their actions so far are shamefully inadequate," said Lyden. "You cannot trample over someone's constitutional rights and my rights as a reporter, invade my notebook and my Blackberry and say, 'Whoops, I guess we were wrong.' That's inadequate."
Still unresolved is what will happen with Lyden's phone records. Lyden said he's fighting to prevent what he considers his private information from becoming public.
- All Things Considered, 12/13/2007, 6:18 p.m.