A federal appeals court has ruled against a onetime Casper city councilman who had alleged a former police chief violated his privacy in an attempt to sabotage his political career.
Former Councilman Craig Hedquist had argued that ex-Police Chief Chris Walsh had used an agency database to search for information on Hedquist in an attempt to keep the then-councilman from earning another term on the City Council.
In an August opinion, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that evidence could be used to show Walsh acted with an improper purpose. However, the court ruled, Hedquist’s arguments could not overcome qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields government employees from lawsuits related to their work on the job under most conditions.
Appeals judges ruled that although Hedquist could support his claim that Walsh sought driver’s records protected by federal law as part of a political vendetta, Hedquist did not provide evidence to show Walsh was not also investigating a crime by looking into Hedquist’s place of residency.
The court ruled that because there is no precedent determining whether federal law allows for a finding against a person who had at least one legal reason for accessing private motor vehicle records, Hedquist did not show the violation of rights necessary to defeat qualified immunity.
“If a law-enforcement officer has a permissible purpose, the statutory language does not restrict access to protected information if the officer also has an impermissible purpose,” Judge Robert Bacharach wrote. “Thus, the statutory language would not have alerted the police chief to a violation.”
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Hedquist’s lawyer, John Robinson, did not immediately respond to a Monday afternoon email requesting comment for this story. Nor did Anna Reeves Olson, who argued Walsh’s response to the appeals court at a Salt Lake City hearing.
In his dissent from the two-judge majority opinion, Judge Carlos Lucero wrote that Walsh statements that at least part of the reason for searching Hedquist’s name in driver records was to determine his residency and investigate if Hedquist had lied when running for office. Lucero wrote that because Walsh’s deposition statements contradicted one another, a jury should hear the case and the 10th Circuit should have reversed summary judgement.
“I choose not to resolve the conflict (in testimony),” Lucero wrote. “It is not in our office to resolve such an evidentiary dispute. I choose not to do so and would leave it to a jury.”
Walsh retired from the Casper Police Department in 2014. The same year, Hedquist sued city officials, including then-City Manager John Patterson. He did not name Walsh as a defendant. Then, in 2016, Hedquist filed another lawsuit against Walsh.
Less than a month later, voters elected Walsh to the Casper City Council, choosing him over then-Vice Mayor Steve Cathey by a wide margin. The former chief resigned from the council in July of this year so he could focus on a new job running the state’s Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission in Douglas.
The opinion was the second this year from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against Hedquist. In February, the Denver-based court ruled against Hedquist in an appeal from the 2014 lawsuit.