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Tuesday, July 16, 2013 05:56 am

Police files opened by judge

Springfield loses lawsuit

Calvin Christian III
The city of Springfield has lost what could prove a key lawsuit in a longstanding fight to keep police internal affairs files under wraps.

In a ruling issued Friday, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Schmidt ordered the city to turn over internal affairs files to Calvin Christian III, who sued after the city refused to hand over files pursuant to a 2011 request made under the state Freedom of Information Act.

“Mr. Christian is elated, and so am I,” said John Myers, Christian’s attorney.

The decision marks the second time in two years that Christian has beaten the city in legal disputes over police internal affairs files.

In 2011, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Pat Kelley ruled that the city could not withhold internal affairs files on the grounds that they are related to the adjudication of employee disciplinary cases. Christian was back in court within six months after the city refused to release a second set of internal affairs files. Except for the names of officers, the city blacked out the entire contents of eight files requested by Christian.

In the second case, the city had argued that the files were exempt from disclosure under a section of the Freedom of Information Act that allows public bodies to withhold documents that contain opinions or are preliminary in nature. The city also argued that disclosure would interfere with ongoing investigations. The city also said that disclosure would reveal the identities of complainants and reveal private information.

Schmidt rejected nearly everything the city argued. Such personal information as birth dates, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers and addresses can be redacted, Schmidt ruled, but the city must otherwise turn over files. The city can withhold video or audio tapes that would reveal the identities of complainants, the judge said, but transcripts must be produced with identities redacted.

Schmidt’s ruling stands in contrast to opinions from the Illinois attorney general’s office, which has at least twice told municipal police departments, including the Springfield Police Department, that internal affairs files can be withheld on the grounds that they are preliminary in nature and contain opinions.

Don Craven, who represented Christian in the early stages of the case and is now representing him in yet another FOIA lawsuit against the city aimed at prying loose internal affairs records that the city says have been shredded, hailed Schmidt’s ruling.

“These are, obviously, records that the city has very much wanted ot keep secret and now judges have said, at least twice, ‘Quit,’” Craven said.

In his ruling, Schmidt awarded attorneys fees to Christian, but how much the city might have to pay isn’t clear.

“I don’t know what my fees are yet,” Myers said. “The city put up a spirited defense. It took a lot of time.”

Corporation counsel Mark Cullen, whose office defended the case, could not be immediately reached.

To read the decision, click here: http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/file-161-.pdf

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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