CHICAGO (CN) — The Chicago Sun-Times did not violate privacy when it obtained personal information on five police officers, but it did when it published it in a story accusing the Chicago police department of manipulating a homicide investigation involving the nephew of former Mayor Richie Daley, a federal judge ruled.
The Sun-Times published an article in 2011 that claimed the Chicago PD schemed to confuse a witness by putting into a lineup five officers who closely resembled Richard Vanecko, a police officer who was accused of punching a man in the face and killing him in 2004. Vanecko is the nephew for former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The witness was unable to identify Vanecko and charges against him were dropped, thought eventually he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and spent 60 days in jail.
The Sun-Times published information about the officers' height, weight, eye and hair color. Two officers in the lineup were friends of Vanecko. The Sun-Times said it obtained the information from motor vehicle records because the police department refused to turn over the lineup photograph.
It is unclear when the newspaper got its hands on the motor vehicle records, but the Sun-Times acknowledged that it received the lineup photo three days before the story was published.
On April 14, 2004, David Koschman bumped into one of Vanecko's friends near a strip of bars on Division Street at 3:15 a.m. Vanecko punched him in the face and Koschman fell back and cracked his head on the sidewalk. He died 12 days later, after his mother made the decision to take him off life support.
The five police officers from the lineup — Scott Dahlstrom, Hugh Gallagly, Peter Kelly, Robert Shea and Emmet Welch — sued the Sun-Times in 2015, claiming the story violated their privacy and put them in danger.
The Seventh Circuit granted the Sun-Times interlocutory appeal, and upheld the U.S. District Court's refusal to dismiss.
Last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Leinenweber rejected the newspaper's claim that the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act prohibiting disclosure of personal information obtained from the Secretary of State violates the First Amendment.
The act allows news outlets to publish a person's private data for news gathering when it relates to the operation of a motor vehicle or public safety.
Leinenweber limited discovery "to the obtaining and publishing of the plaintiffs' personal information and the issue of damages claimed by the plaintiffs. Since Vanecko was subsequently indicted, pled guilty, and is currently incarcerated, there is no need to retrace all of the manipulation of the Vanecko investigation."
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