Updates on cases, laws, and other topics of interest to local governments

Subscribe by Email

Enter your Email:
Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Subscribe in a Reader

Follow Municipal Minute on Twitter


Blog comments do not reflect the views or opinions of the Author or Ancel Glink. Some of the content may be considered attorney advertising material under the applicable rules of certain states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please read our full disclaimer

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Court Orders Inspection of Police Personnel Records

After he was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery, plaintiff alleged that two police officers coerced him into making his confession.  He then appealed his convictions and sought to use FOIA to compel disclosure of documents regarding past complaints of misconduct made against the two officers.  The Chicago Police Department denied plaintiff's request and argued that the documents were exempt because (1) disclosure would deprive the officers of a fair trial or an impartial hearing; (2) the documents contained opinions regarding officer discipline; (3) disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy by revealing the identity of persons who file complaints or provide information to law enforcement; and (4) the documents constitute personnel files and personal information of employees. 

The plaintiff filed suit against the City. The trial court ruled in favor of the City, finding that the documents were exempt from disclosure under various sections of FOIA.  The court further reasoned that disclosing the complaints of misconduct would taint the jury pool in advance of trial. 

On appeal to the Illinois appellate court, plaintiff argued that his dismissal should be reversed and remanded for an "in camera" inspection of the documents pursuant to Section 11(f) of FOIA.  An "in camera" inspection allows the judge to review the records in private rather than in open court.  Section 11(f) of FOIA provides that “the court shall consider the matter de novo, and shall conduct such in camera examination of the requested records as it finds appropriate to determine if such records or any part thereof may be withheld under any provision of this Act.”  Additionally, 11(f) states that the burden is on the public body to establish by clear and convincing evidence that it is exempt from disclosure. 

The appellate court reversed the trial court and remanded the case to conduct the "in camera" review of the documents.  Watkins v. McCarthy, 2012 IL App (1st) 10-0632 (November 5, 2012).  The court established the test for determining whether an "in camera" inspection is necessary.  If the public body meets its burden of proving that a particular statutory exemption applies through affidavits, then no inspection is required.  However, "if the public body's claims are conclusory, merely recite statutory standards, or are too vague or sweeping," then affidavits will not be enough to satisfy the public body's burden of proof.  In this case, the appellate court determined that the CPD failed to provide sufficient factual support that the requested records were exempt.

Post authored by Erin Baker, Ancel Glink.


Post a Comment