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Cop Arrested By Cop And Then Fired That's When His Revenge Begin

Antonia 17/08/2021

A Highway Patrol trooper who caught another officer speeding to an off-duty job at 120mph is suing for more than $500,000 - saying his allies harassed her after he was fired.

Florida's Donna Jane Watts made national headlines after handcuffing Miami Police Department officer Fausto Lopez, while he was in full uniform and driving a police car.

Since the incident in 2011 she claims she has had threatening calls on her cell phone, police cars idling outside her house and fellow officers accessing her private driver's license information.

Ms Watts - who is suing more than 25 police agencies - said she is even afraid to open her mailbox.

Other calls included prank calls and orders for pizza, she claimed.

In a lawsuit she said law enforcement officers had long been known to band together and protect each other, but her case took things too far.

According to her lawyer, she suspected her private driver's license information was being accessed by fellow officers, so she made a public records request with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

It allegedly showed at least 88 law enforcement officers from 25 different agencies accessed Watts' driver's license information more than 200 times - in just three months.

Ms Watts is suing those police agencies and the individual officers under the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act, a 1994 law that provides for a penalty of $2,500 for each violation if the information was improperly accessed.

Watts' attorney, Mirta Desir, said it was clear most of the officers had no legitimate reason to look up her data. If all the searches were found illegal, Watts could receive more than $500,000.

'Ultimately what it comes down to is a violation of privacy,' Ms Desir added. 'It wasn't for any legitimate purpose on the part of the police officers and it was done by people in a position of trust.'

Arrest: Footage from Ms Watts' patrol car showed her handcuffing Miami officer Fausto Lopez - who was in full uniform and driving his police car to an off-duty job. He was later fired and she says his allies turned on her

According to court documents, most of the individual officers named in Watts' lawsuit did face some disciplinary action, usually a written reprimand.

But lawyers for the agencies have asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that under the U.S. Constitution, Congress cannot hold police officers liable for merely accessing the information - only if they try to sell it.

Some of the officers say they had a legitimate reason. A lawyer for fellow state Trooper Andrew Cobb said he accessed Watts' information after 'hearing rumors that other troopers were threatening' her, and that his actions were done 'out of concern for a fellow trooper' and as 'a matter of public safety.'

The challenge by some Florida police agencies to the driver's license law has drawn the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, which is defending its constitutionality.

'There is value in drivers' information and a market for it,' Justice Department lawyers said in court papers. 'What the defendants fail to recognize is that there is value in drivers' information whether or not it is actually sold.'

Ms Watts was on a routine patrol early in the morning in October 2011 when a Lopez's car whizzed past at speeds that would eventually top 120 mph.

Even with her blue lights flashing and siren blaring, it took her more than seven minutes to pull him over.

Not certain who was behind the wheel, she approached the car warily, with her gun drawn, according to video from her cruiser's dashboard camera - yelling: 'Put your hands out of the window! Right now!'

Lopez apologized and said he was late for an off-duty job, to which Watts shouted: 'You were running 120 miles an hour!'

Lopez was eventually fired after the confrontation made national headlines.

Some police agencies are trying to change the driver's license law to stop claims like Ms Watts'.

Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Agencies (NAPO), said law enforcement officials are concerned lawyers are using the law to target individual officers who access the information.

Speeding: Ms Watts was initially unsure who was in the police car and approached with her gun drawn

'In our view, it was not what the federal law was enacted to counteract,' Johnson said. 'I think it would be unfair and outside the scope of the legislation to think individuals would get whacked like that.'

NAPO is lobbying Congress to remove the automatic $2,500 penalty and change the law so that a violation could only occur if there was 'specific intent to secure an economic benefit,' according to the organization's documents.

Ms Desir said anyone can ask the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for a report - known as D.A.V.I.D., for Driving and Vehicle Information Database - on who has accessed their driver's license information and how many times, but it isn't easy.

'You don't even know you've been looked up unless you make a concerted effort to find out,' she said.

A judge is expected to rule on the law enforcement agency and officers' motions to dismiss the case in the next few weeks, which will determine whether the lawsuit continues.

Ms Desir said Watts, who had been assigned to road patrol in Broward County, has relocated and is no longer driving a cruiser, but she still works for the Highway Patrol.

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