116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Linn County sheriff’s secretary accessed police database ‘to satisfy her own curiosity’
Former employee loses appeal to get unemployment benefits
CEDAR RAPIDS — A former Linn County Sheriff’s Office secretary was fired after she looked up 55 cases in a police database “to satisfy her own curiosity and to find entertainment in the other people’s trauma,” records show.
Shelby Burns was employed with the sheriff’s department from Jan. 2, 2008, until Oct. 24, 2022. After being fired, she applied for unemployment benefits, but was denied on the grounds that she was discharged for disqualifying, job-related misconduct.
Burns appealed the denial, but it was upheld in a ruling filed last month by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Johnson.
Johnson’s ruling explains that as a secretary with the sheriff’s office, Burns had access to the ILEADS database, a shared database between the sheriff’s office and the Cedar Rapids Police Department. She was supposed to use this database to perform only work duties like background checks and tasks related to the sex-offender registry.
On Aug. 17, 2022, Burns accessed information about a “tragic death” through the ILEADS database, according to the ruling. Someone at the Cedar Rapids Police Department noticed the access immediately and notified the sheriff’s office.
An internal affairs investigation was started at the sheriff’s office, during which Burns repeatedly lied about having accessed the case in the database, the ruling states. The investigation determined that she had accessed 55 cases between June and September 2022 for the purpose of satisfying her own curiosity — and not for work.
She was put on administrative leave at the end of September, and was fired Oct. 24.
As part of the unemployment appeal process, Judge Johnson heard testimony from Col. Doug Riniker with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and from Burns. She states in her ruling she felt Burns was not a credible witness. She said she found Riniker’s testimony believable and compelling.
“The ample testimony and documentation provided by the employer set forth example after example of claimant breaching the duty of confidentiality and the privacy of innumerable individuals whose information is contained within secure databases for specific, public safety purposes in order to satisfy her own curiosity and to find entertainment in the other people’s trauma,” Johnson said in the ruling.
Johnson wrote that after Burns lied during the internal investigation and during part of her testimony in the hearing, she eventually admitted to accessing the cases.
“Her actions demonstrate a callous disregard for the people served by the Cedar Rapids Police Department, for her obligation of good record stewardship and appropriate work behavior, and for the truth in any forum,” Johnson’s ruling states.
Sheriff Brian Gardner told The Gazette in an email that when someone is hired at the sheriff’s office in a position with access to secure databases, it is made clear upon hiring that, per the sheriff’s office policy manual and the Iowa Code, “accessing this information can only be for legitimate law enforcement-related purposes.”
“(New employees) are advised that they are never to access this information merely out of curiosity, for amusement, personal entertainment, or personal gain. Doing so will jeopardize their employment and may additionally lead to criminal prosecution.”
Gardner said the Linn County Attorney’s office decided against pressing charges.
Burns’ position at the sheriff’s office has since been filled, according to Gardner.
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