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Thursday, April 19, 2012 12:15 pm

Illinois sues Sangamon County over records

County hasn’t released documents on injury at detention center

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PHOTO BY BRUCE RUSHTON

Sangamon County authorities are refusing to release records to the state Department of Children and Family Services, which is investigating a serious injury suffered by a DCFS ward at the county’s juvenile detention center last fall.

DCFS sued the county last month, asking a judge to order the county to comply with a subpoena issued in December. In the subpoena, the state demands documentation regarding suicide checks for the boy on Oct. 8, when he suffered a serious injury while on suicide watch at the detention center, according to the lawsuit filed March 12.

Mike Torchia, director of the county’s court services department that oversees the detention center, said that confidentiality statutes prevent him from discussing the case in any detail.

“I really can’t comment on it,” Torchia says. “We’re in the process of working with the attorney general’s office to resolve the issue. … I don’t know what the outcome will be.”

Torchia said that he relied on instructions from Sangamon County associate judge Steve Nardulli, who oversees juvenile cases, in declining to release records in response to the DCFS subpoena.

Nardulli said it’s a matter of getting a judge’s permission to release records. In this case, Nardulli said, the boy who was injured was under the jurisdiction of a Macon County court, and so the state should seek an order from the Macon County judge to get the requested records.

The lawsuit contains no details on the injury or how it might have occurred, nor does the lawsuit state anything about the injured boy except that he was a DCFS ward when the injury occurred and that DCFS is investigating the incident that resulted in injury. DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe confirmed that the investigation remains active, but he would not say anything else about the case.

DCFS delivered the subpoena on Dec. 22. The county had until Dec. 31 to respond but still has not given the state the requested records.

“To date, despite numerous attempts to resolve this matter without judicial intervention, respondent has not complied with the subpoena,” assistant attorney general Erik P. Lewis wrote in the lawsuit. “Respondent has no legal authority for refusing to comply with the subpoena.”

According to the lawsuit, someone called a DCFS hotline on the day the boy was injured.

“Upon information and belief, the minor child in question was under suicide watch at the time of his injury,” Lewis wrote in the lawsuit.

Steven Beckett, a University of Illinois law professor, said that public agencies don’t typically refuse to release records to authorities charged with investigating incidents that result in injuries to children.

“I think this is very unusual,” Beckett said. “It seems to me like this would be like a parent contacting the juvenile detention center and saying ‘I’d like to see all the records of who was watching my son during the time he was injured.’ ”

A parent should have the right to see such records, Beckett said. But Nardulli said it isn’t that simple. Like DCFS, he said, a parent would need orders from a judge because juveniles held in detention are considered public wards.

“Just about any information that any person wants is going to have to be approved by a court,” Nardulli said. “If a parent wanted to see them (records), they would have to go through this process.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.