APD: Clerk made illegal database searches
A longtime Anchorage police clerk is charged with abusing her position to illegally access information on people in state public-safety databases last month.
APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad said Bianca Purcell, 39, was indicted by a grand jury Tuesday on one count each of felony criminal use of a computer, misdemeanor attempted criminal use of a computer and misuse of confidential information. The case is being handled by the state Office of Special Prosecutions.
The alleged access occurred on July 11, and police began to investigate it the following day. Purcell was arraigned in Anchorage Superior Court Thursday afternoon.
Police and court officials are generally barred from using criminal databases – such as the Alaska Public Safety Information Network – to run queries on people outside the scope of their work.
“The charges stem from the allegations of Purcell looking up persons both in APSIN and APD’s in-house system for a non-work-related reason,” Oistad wrote.
Court records show that Bianca Purcell has had a divorce proceeding with her husband, former Houston mayor Roger Purcell, open since January. According to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Roger Purcell resigned in 2010 – shortly before a recall election targeting him over various allegations, including a claim that he had misused a Houston police vehicle’s police lights while driving on the Parks Highway.
Charging documents in the case, filed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Aliberti, said Purcell reported that she had mistyped a driver’s license number in an APSIN search. The resulting search targeted a person identified as R.P., whom Aliberti described as a party opposing Purcell in “a pending civil matter.”
Search logs within APSIN showed that instead of receiving information on R.P., Purcell received a warning in the system that she couldn’t access the information and that administrators had been flagged on her request.
“The logs showed that in response Purcell then queried a [driver’s license number] that was one digit off from R.P’s which gave her access to [another person’s] confidential personal information,” Aliberti wrote. “The next log entries showed Purcell using [that person’s] confidential information to locate an incident number similar to a current incident number associated with a legitimate pending digital evidence request.”
During a July 17 interview with investigators, Aliberti said Purcell – who had worked to fill digital evidence requests at APD – initially maintained that the search was accidental. That claim collapsed, however, when she was confronted with the evidence from the APSIN logs.
“Purcell stated that this attempt was made for a personal reason,” Aliberti wrote. “Purcell also stated that there was no valid law enforcement reason for the research she conducted on [the second person] and that the reason she conducted the search using [that person’s] information was to find information that could ‘match up’ to a legitimate digital evidence request.”
Oistad said Purcell has been with APD since December 2004, working as a non-sworn employee of the department.
Another database-related case against an APD employee, in 2013, saw then-officer Mark Moeller plead guilty to a computer-misuse charge. According to the Associated Press, Moeller had used his authority as a rookie officer to obtain an Alaska State Troopers report on a woman he met during a DUI arrest and later had sex with.
Purcell’s name did not appear in a search of Anchorage’s employee directory Thursday. Oistad declined to say whether she had been terminated, noting that the department’s personnel matters are generally confidential but that it takes allegations of official misconduct seriously.
“As with any allegations of employee misconduct, there is a legally required process that we must follow,” Oistad wrote. “We are currently working through that process. When the process is concluded we will take appropriate action.”
Rachel McPherron contributed information to this story.
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