WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) —The mysterious discovery of District police and firefighter personnel records scattered among burning trash bins and an abandoned car was partially explained Wednesday with an email showing department employee Marvin “Ben” Haiman offered his colleagues an opportunity to get rid of unneeded records with a “file burn.”
Union leaders who are calling for an investigation said such a burn ran afoul of District of Columbia violations governing the preservation and destruction of records.
Firefighters responded to the fire department training academy last Friday evening, where they found police officer and firefighter personnel records in burning trash bins, scattered on the ground or stashed in an abandoned car. The documents included personnel, training and medical records, and some had sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and home addresses.
An email obtained by The Associated Press shows that Haiman of the department’s recruiting division advised recruiting staff members in a message last Thursday to leave in a hallway any items they needed destroyed. A “file burn,” he wrote, would take place the following morning.
The unions are calling for an investigation by the District’s office of the inspector general. The office said Wednesday it could not comment on pending investigations.
“The documents were completely unsecure and subject to being blown about by the wind, with no measures being taken to prevent unauthorized access or release,” the union leaders wrote Tuesday in a request for an investigation. They said the District had a “long, disgraceful history when it comes to failing to produce evidence, altering or destroying evidence, or simply lying about the existence of evidence in litigation.”
Fire union president Edward Smith said he was told several police department vans had delivered the police documents to the site. He said officials know where and when the documents were destroyed, but “that still leaves open the who, the what, and the why?”
He added, “We really need to get to the bottom of it.”
D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson, chair of the council’s public safety committee, said he had written the inspector general to reinforce the request for an investigation. He said he had spoken with a deputy mayor about the situation and was left with the impression that not all the documents were burned and that many were in fact saved.
“I just have to speculate that somebody wanted to get rid of the records and thought throwing them away was the way to do it,” Mendelson said.
Haiman, a deputy director in the recruiting division, declined to comment Wednesday because of a pending internal affairs investigation that the department announced Wednesday. Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump, who said the department would investigate whether any policies on document retention were broken, confirmed the authenticity of the email and said it would be reviewed as part of the investigation.
At least one member of the department’s command staff, Assistant Chief Patrick Burke, was copied on the email. Burke declined to comment Wednesday.
Kris Baumann, chairman of the police officers’ union, said he was pessimistic that an internal investigation could uncover the truth.
“We have zero confidence in the internal affairs division of the department. I think it’s important that an outside agency look at this,” Baumann said.
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