City seeks to keep cops’ personal emails about McDonald private

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In this Oct. 20, 2014 frame from dashcam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald (right) walks down the street moments before he was fatally shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke sixteen times in Chicago. The shooting helped prompt a Justice Department investigation. | Chicago Police Department via AP

City Hall is trying to keep Chicago Police officers’ personal emails regarding the shooting of Laquan McDonald private.

The City of Chicago is asking a judge to overturn a state Attorney General’s Office ruling that said the emails are public record and, therefore, subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The city filed the complaint Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court against the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and CNN.

Last January, a CNN producer filed an FOIA request with the Chicago Police Department that sought “all emails related to Laquan McDonald from Police Department email accounts and personal email accounts where business was discussed” for 12 specific Chicago Police officers, according to the filing. The request sought emails that were exchanged between Oct. 19 and 24, 2014, and again between Nov. 19 and 29, 2015.

The police department asked for and was granted an extension to fill the request. On April 19, the department sent the producer more than 700 pages of responsive records, according to the filing. Part of the request was denied.

The producer contacted the CPD’s FOIA office and was told the department “had provided her with all of the records found in its search for responsive records,” according to the filing.

On April 28, CNN asked for a review of the records by the Illinois attorney general’s public access counselor, alleging that the records provided by the police department were unresponsive, the filing stated. CNN also questioned whether the police department “had conducted an adequate search to identify all responsive emails.

The police department told the counselor that it had not searched officers’ personal emails.

“Moreover, CPD explained, communications of individual officer employees on their privately-owned and personal email accounts were not ‘prepared by or for,’ or ‘used by, received by, in the possession of, or under the control of any public body’ ” and were not subject to FOIA disclosure, the filing stated.

On Aug. 9, Sarah Pratt, the attorney general’s public access counselor, ruled that the police department had violated the Freedom of Information Act, stating: “Any e-mails exchanged by CPD employees concerning the shooting death of Mr. McDonald presumably pertain to those employees’ public duties and therefore accessing them would not constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy under the plain language of section 7(1)(c) of FOIA.”

Maura Possley, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said: “We plan to defend the public access counselor’s opinion in the administrative review.”

According to Pratt’s Aug. 9 ruling, the 12 officers in question included Jason Van Dyke, the officer charged with fatally shooting McDonald 16 times, and Deputy Chief David McNaughton.

McNaughton retired from the department in August after the city inspector general found he was at fault for determining that Van Dyke’s use of force was proper. In a report, McNaughton wrote that McDonald was approaching Van Dyke when he was shot and the officer was in fear for his life.

The city is asking a judge to find that Pratt erred in the ruling that declared officers’ personal emails as public record.

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