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BGA Lawsuit Wants To Know: Did Sheriff’s Son Tap Into Sensitive Records?

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Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Pam Zekman serves on CBS 2 Chicago’s...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — There’s more tonight on a controversy in Du Page County involving the sheriff’s teen son.

CBS 2 investigator Pam Zekman and the Better Government Association have reported on Patrick Zaruba, son of Sheriff John Zaruba, going on ride-alongs with deputies.

Video taken from a squad-car camera shows Patrick Zaruba chasing down a suspect, even though he was not a deputy.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

On Thursday, the BGA filed a lawsuit to see how the sheriff’s son has used another unusual privilege: access to the Illinois Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, or LEADS.  It contains sensitive information on people supplied by government agencies across the country, including every licensed driver in the state.

“It’s a significant amount of information that can be used or abused quite easily,” said Joseph Mazzone, an attorney for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, the union that represents deputies in the Du Page County Sheriff’s office.

Mazzone says several deputies have complained about Patrick Zaruba getting access to LEADS when he was a 17-year-old high school student and not a sworn officer or department employee.

The LEADS system is only supposed to be used for legitimate law-enforcement purposes.

“The real concern amongst deputies is, what did he need it for?” Mazzone said. “He’s not able to take any police action, he has no powers of arrest, he has no powers to enforce the laws of the state.”

The Sheriff’s office declined a BGA Freedom of Information request for records on what, if any, LEADS searches Patrick Zaruba conducted. Thursday, the BGA filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff alleging he violated state law by refusing to turn over the records.

“We would like to know what he’s been doing inside that database. Who has he been looking at?” Andy Shaw, president of the Better Government Association, says.

bga logo BGA Lawsuit Wants To Know: Did Sheriffs Son Tap Into Sensitive Records?

Better Government Association logo. (Credit: BGA)

Patrick Zaruba passed a required, two-hour training course and an examination before he was  certified by the Illinois State Police to use LEADS in November 2010. That’s puzzling because a State police guideline says LEADS training “is only authorized for persons currently employed by a criminal justice agency.”

However, that is not specified in state law and a spokesman for the Illinois State Police said that is not a binding rule.

“Authorized users need not be paid, but must be under the management control of the criminal justice agency,” State Police Lt. Steve Lyddon says. “In this case, the management control is being exerted over Patrick Zaruba by the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office.

If the rules and the law conflict, Shaw says, “Let’s clean that up.”

“There’s no one in America who could possibly defend letting a teenager into a confidential law enforcement database with the power to play around like it’s a video game, only with people’s lives,” he adds.

More than a dozen Northern Illinois sheriff departments CBS 2 contacted said they do not allow interns or ride-along participants to use LEADS. They were surprised any agency would allow it.

Sheriff Zaruba did not return repeated requests for comment. Neither did Patrick Zaruba, who is now a 19 year old student at the University of Illinois.

A spokeswoman for the state police says that since Patrick Zaruba successfully completed the required background checks, training and testing, there is nothing in the law that prohibited him from having access to LEADs.

The spokeswoman also said state police can only investigate if there is a complaint about someone using LEADS improperly or for personal reasons.

Meanwhile, DuPage County Board members have already expressed concerns about Patrick Zaruba’s many ride-alongs, saying taxpayers could get stuck with paying huge financial liabilities if someone ever sued over his actions, like chasing down a suspect.

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