Appeals Court Orders Release Of Chicago Police Disciplinary Records

An Illinois appeals court on Friday overturned an injunction that had blocked the release of decades of records of citizen complaints against Chicago police officers, ruling that the documents must be made public.

A unanimous three-judge panel ruled that the disciplinary records must be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers, had sued in 2014 to block the records from being released, arguing that its collective bargaining agreement with the city required that any disciplinary records more than 4 years old be destroyed.

That same year, Cook County Judge Peter Flynn granted an injunction to the FOP barring the release of complaint records against thousands of current and former officers going back decades.

The Chicago Tribune joined in an appeal of that decision with the city and the Chicago Police Department.

In its decision Friday, the appeals court panel found that Flynn had erred in issuing the injunction, concluding that a clause in the union’s bargaining contract requiring the destruction of public records after four years was “legally unenforceable.”

“In light of these public policy considerations and the purpose of the FOIA to open governmental records to the light of public scrutiny, an award in the pending arbitration proceedings would be unenforceable if it circumvented the City’s required compliance with the FOIA requests at issue,” said the ruling written by Judge Shelvin Louise Marie Hall. “Therefore, there was no legal basis for the circuit court to enjoin defendants from releasing the requested records.”

Judges Mary Rochford and Mathias Delort joined in the unanimous ruling.

FOP President Dean Angelo Sr. declined to comment on the ruling, saying he had not yet read it.

The union could appeal the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, a move that would block the release of the records while the state’s highest court decided whether to hear the case.

Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who has studied police misconduct, and activist and journalist Jamie Kalven started the battle for access to the records to find out how the Police Department handled citizen complaints.

In a ruling on a lawsuit by Kalven, the state appeals court ruled in 2014 that records of citizen complaints should be made public under open-records law.

That same year, the Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times filed FOIA requests seeking the names of officers who had received at least one complaint and whether any disciplinary action had been taken against them, among other details. The requests sought the records going back to 1967.

With the city poised to release the records, the FOP filed suit, alleging that officers named in the complaints would be unfairly harmed. The union also said the release would violate its collective bargaining agreement with the city that called for records of alleged police misconduct to be destroyed after four years.

Flynn then issued an injunction barring the release of the records more than 4 years old.

But on Friday the appellate panel found that the union’s position conflicted with the state’s public records law.

From The Chicago Tribune

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