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Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 09:35 am

Calling the cops

Mayor asks for investigation

Springfield Mayor Mike Houston has asked Illinois State Police to figure out who has leaked police internal affairs files.

“I would like to formally request that your agency conduct an investigation into the theft of internal affairs files from the Springfield Police Department,” Houston wrote in a July 26 letter to Hiram Grau, director of the Illinois State Police. “We know for a fact that one file has been removed and we suspect there may be more.”

Nathan Mihelich, city spokesman, said that the file the mayor referred to in his letter was an internal affairs report on deputy chief Cliff Buscher, who was demoted and suspended after firing his service weapon while intoxicated during a 2008 fishing trip to Missouri with fellow officers. Originally charged with a felony in connection with the incident, Buscher pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

The internal affairs file on Buscher was shredded last spring after it was requested by Calvin Christian III, a city resident who has requested dozens of police records since 2010. Christian has sued the city, saying that the file was illegally destroyed, and the city has agreed that shredding the file was a violation of the state Freedom of Information Act.

However, television station WICS in Springfield obtained at least portions of the Buscher file via unknown means and broadcast details in June during a series of reports that led to the resignation of corporation counsel Mark Cullen, who knew about the shredding the day it occurred, and the sudden retirement of police chief Rob Williams, who admitted last spring that Buscher file and an unknown number of other internal affairs files were destroyed so that they would not have to be produced in response to FOIA requests. The chief termed it a matter of efficiency before WICS aired its series.

State police officials could not be immediately reached.

In his letter to state police, Houston said that the city would make available to investigators a list of city employees who had access to internal affairs files. That should be a short list, according to Don Craven, Christian’s lawyer.

“They (city officials) have provided us with a rather detailed scenario of who has access to internal affairs files and the security measures that attach to those files,” Craven said. “My recollection is they’re kept in a vault. I’m under the impression from the information we got from the city that they are kept under lock and key in a situation where certainly less than ten people have access to those files.”

The city had long insisted that internal affairs files are not subject to disclosure under state law, but that stance changed after Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Schmidt last month ruled that internal affairs are, in fact, public records under the state Freedom of Information Act and must be disclosed upon request. Houston has said that the city will abide by Schmidt’s order in a lawsuit brought by Christian in 2011.

Houston’s request for a state police investigation came two weeks after Schmidt issued his ruling.

“As you know, the leaking of unauthorized information can be very detrimental to an agency,” the mayor wrote in his July letter to Grau. “If our officers do not believe their records are safe, they will be reluctant to come forward and report another officer’s misconduct. Moreover, anyone who reports officer misconduct does so with an expectation of privacy.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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