WASHINGTON, D.C.–The widow of an Army colonel who committed suicide when faced with an inquiry into allegations of misconduct may not recover money from the government for disclosures of the inquiry and a subsequent investigation of the suicide, an appeals panel in Washington, D.C., ruled in late July.
Three New Jersey reporters in 1986 filed Freedom of Information Act requests for information on Col. Alfred Crumpton, who allegedly had padded travel vouchers and expense accounts while serving in South Africa. Crumpton hanged himself in the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey during the Army’s investigation of the complaints.
An Army FOI officer concluded that the public has strong interests in information about the conduct of a senior military commander in a senior leadership position and in knowing that the Army investigated all allegations against him. Those interests would outweigh the privacy interests of the widow in protecting herself from painful public revelations, the FOI officer found.
In 1988, Madolyn Crumpton filed a claim for damages saying release of reports to the media had caused her to become emotionally upset. In 1989, she sued the Army in Washington, D.C., under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The federal District Court ruled for the Army in 1994, finding it had exercised sufficient care in balancing public and private interests.
The appeals panel affirmed, saying that the FOI Act is not a withholding statute but a disclosure statute. Agencies would have little incentive to disclose information if the courts could simply “second-guess” them, the panel wrote. However, the panel did not “condone” the disclosures, saying that some of the disclosed material seemed “extraordinarily private.” (Crumpton v. Stone; Attorney for the United States: Edith Marshall, Washington, D.C.)
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