In July 2014, Chicago Police Department police officers fatally shot a 16-year-old after he pointed a firearm at the officers on numerous occasions. There were several witnesses to the shooting, and the independent police review board in Chicago subsequently released basic details of the incident including the minor’s name, the date and time of the incident, and the type of incident. In January 2016, WMAQ filed a FOIA request with the CPD, requesting “all police reports, case reports, case incident reports and supplemental reports filed in the police shooting.” CPD denied the request arguing that the JCA barred disclosure of these records to WMAQ as it was not an “authorized party” entitled to access of the records. After CPD denied the FOIA request, WMAQ filed a request for review with the Public Access Counselor (PAC).
In February 2016, the PAC issued a nonbinding determination letter that concluded the CPD violated FOIA by withholding records concerning the investigation into the police shooting death of the minor. The PAC stated that the CPD had to disclose records that involved the investigation into whether the homicide of the minor was justifiable.
The CPD did not produce the records and WMAQ filed suit, seeking disclosure of all reports filed in the matter. The circuit court ruled in WMAQ’s favor, holding that the JCA’s prohibitions against unauthorized disclosure did not apply to the records of the investigation of the conduct of the police officers involved in the shooting of the minor.
On appeal, CPD asserted that the plain language of the JCA prohibited the disclosure of the requested records because WMAQ did not obtain a court order, and because the records were confidential since the victim of the shooting was a minor.
The Appellate Court ruled in favor of WMAQ and ordered release of the records. The Court rejected the CPD’s interpretation of the JCA as too broad since the purpose of the JCA is to protect the privacy of minors and not to shield alleged misconduct of public employees from public view. The Court stated that WMAQ was not required to obtain a court order to review the records because the records related to the investigation of police officers and did not relate to “the investigation, arrest, or custodial detention” of the minor in this case – an essential basis for confidentiality under the JCA. Finally, the Court rejected the CPD’s argument that the records of the independent police review board were wholly exempt from disclosure because the Act was amended in 2009 to provide independent agencies who investigate police conduct access to law enforcement records that relate to minors who have been investigated, arrested, or detained in custody.
Post Authored by Ashton Tunk & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink