Judge rules government not liable for release of information about fraud investigation
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The federal government is not liable to the widow of an army colonel for releasing to the news media information from an investigation into several charges against him for travel fraud and other wrongdoing.
A federal district judge in Washington, D.C., ruled in mid-February that the government did not intentionally and negligently inflict distress on Madolyn Crumpton by releasing information from an army investigative report, that it did not violate the Privacy Act and that it appropriately considered and rejected use of the privacy exemption (Exemption 6) to the Freedom of Information Act in giving reporters information responsive to their FOI requests for the report on misconduct by Col. Alfred Crumpton.
Col. Crumpton committed suicide in January 1986 at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey while army investigators were looking into allegations of misconduct by Crumpton in 1984 and 1985, when he and his wife were stationed in London.
Despite his death, the Army continued its investigation until March 1986 when it concluded he had submitted false travel claims, accepted gratuities from contractors and used ostensibly official travel to defray personal expenses. By May 1986 it had received three FOI requests from newspaper reporters in New Jersey for the report.
In responding to the requests, Army officials weighed public interests in disclosure against the private interests of Crumpton’s family. They determined that the public’s interest in the conduct of a military commander in a senior leadership position outweighed the privacy interest of the survivors in avoiding disclosure of “painful” information and released their findings. They invoked the privacy exemption to withhold information on Crumpton’s suicide, its discovery and the autopsy.
Madolyn Crumpton filed suit in May 1988 claiming that the government’s release of the information had caused her to become emotionally upset.
The court said the Army had exercised due care in fulfilling its responsibility to respond to a FOI request and that it had exercised appropriate discretion in balancing the public and private interests affected by the disclosure decision.
(Crumpton v. U.S.; Government Counsel: Edith Marshall)