Court Refuses To Shield Complaint History From Discovery

In a federal court civil suit brought against the City of Chicago and a number of police officers, the plaintiffs sought discovery of the disciplinary histories and complaint register (CR) entries for the officers and other Police Department personnel. The Court rejected the City’s arguments that the documents should be exempt from discovery.

The Court found that “good cause does not exist to protect information contained in CR complaints beyond the private such as home addresses and other private information. The officers understandably prefer not to have disciplinary history and citizen complaints made potentially available outside the police department. Nevertheless, police officers are public employees, paid by the taxpayers. The public’s interest in transparency outweighs the officers’ privacy interest.

“Information contained in CR complaints and disciplinary histories, though personal, has a distinct public character, as it relates to the defendant officers’ performance of their official duties. Without such information, the public would be unable to supervise the individuals and institutions it has entrusted with the extraordinary authority to arrest and detain persons against their will. With so much at stake, defendants simply cannot be permitted to operate in secrecy.”

The Court did hold that “because there is no presently demonstrated need to use or disclose such information for purposes other than this litigation, the Court will require, should an occasion arise in which plaintiffs’ counsel intend to disclose CR information to a person not involved with this litigation, that seven days’ notice be given to the officer to permit him or her to demonstrate by way of motion for a protective order a compelling reason for protection, such as danger to oneself or a member of one’s family.”

Rangel v. City of Chicago, 2010 WL 3699991 (N.D. Ill. 2010).

This article appears in the December 2010 issue