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Criminal investigator fired for using restricted law enforcement database for personal reasons

A recent case decided by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals sustained the removal of a criminal investigator for the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General in connection with his use of a restricted law enforcement database to investigate events involving a lawsuit brought by his son. (Cruise v. SSA, U.S.C.A.F.C. No. 05-3230 (non-precedent), 2/13/06)

The agency removed the investigator on three charges relating to unauthorized access of records for personal gain or the benefit of another, misuse of agency resources, and conduct unbecoming a federal law enforcement officer. Several grounds for appeal were raised before the Merit Systems Protection Board. Following a hearing, the AJ sustained the charges, found there was a nexus with the job, and that removal was a reasonable penalty.

There was also a whistleblower protection argument. The AJ found that the appellant had made protected disclosures and those disclosures contributed to his removal; however, the agency met its burden showing that they would have removed Mr. Cruise even in the absence of the protected disclosures. (Opinion p. 4)

The appeals court decision lines up with the Board and affirms the decision.

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.