Police misconduct files must be made public, court rules

Written By BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporter Posted: 04/13/2014, 12:24am

The Chicago Police Department can no longer keep misconduct records secret, a state appeals court has ruled.

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act doesn’t exempt “CR files,” which consist of misconduct complaints against officers and documents created during the investigations, the court found Monday.

The appeals court also found that “RL” files are open to the public. Those files identify police officers who have accumulated the most misconduct complaints. At issue were two RL files that named officers with the most complaints between 2001-2006 and 2002-2008.

University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman hailed the ruling, saying: “I really do think this is a watershed moment in Illinois in terms of police transparency and accountability.”

Shannon Breymaier, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said the city plans to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the decision.

Jamie Kalven, an independent journalist and community activist, had filed a Freedom of Information request asking the Chicago Police Department to provide him with the Repeater Lists (RL) files as well as Complaint Register (CR) files involving five officers, Futterman said.

In 2009, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Kalven because the information he was seeking was part of a federal misconduct lawsuit. Third parties like Kalven don’t have legal standing to become involved in a lawsuit once the plaintiff and defendant settle the case and agree to seal the police misconduct files, the federal appeals court ruled.

But the state appeals court said those files are a matter of public record under the state Freedom of Information Act.

The state appeals court returned Kalven’s request to a lower court to decide what information the police department can black out from the CR and RL files because of privacy concerns.

Futterman said he doesn’t have a problem with the department redacting personal information about officers and third parties — such as telephone numbers, Social Security numbers and the like.

He also doesn’t have a problem with the department blacking out the names of the people who file the complaints and witnesses who are interviewed during the investigations.

But he said Kalven should oppose any attempt by the department to block the public from seeing recommendations by the police Internal Affairs Bureau and the Independent Police Review Authority — the bodies that investigate complaints of police misconduct — about how much discipline should be imposed against officers for sustained complaints.

Futterman added that the appeals court clearly stated that the names of the officers and the allegations of misconduct can’t be redacted.

“Police officers do not have recognized privacy interests in complaints of misconduct,” Futterman said. “We entrust cops with a lot of power — power to use force and even to shoot and kill. They have to have that power to do their jobs. But with that power comes responsibility. … This will allow the public to evaluate whether the process of these complaints being investigated is a good process that we can trust in.”

The court battle over the records stems from a 2004 lawsuit that Diane Bond filed against the Chicago Police Department claiming she was abused by officers. Futterman was her attorney and submitted evidence that less than 1 percent of misconduct investigations resulted in a complaint being sustained.

Bond settled her lawsuit for $150,000, records show.

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