CHICAGO (CN) — Chicago must release information to the media about decades of complaints against its police officers, an Illinois appeals court ruled, overturning an injunction Chicago had secured.
The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times filed Freedom of Information Act requests seeking records created by police oversight agencies’ investigations of citizen complaints against police officers.
The requests sought names of police officers who received at least one complaint from Jan. 1, 1967 to the present the final finding of the agency’s investigation, and any disciplinary action taken.
The Fraternal Order of Police and three other Chicago police unions sued to block the release of information related to alleged misconduct older than four years.
The unions said the records should be withheld because they are in arbitration with Chicago over whether the city must destroy the requested records pursuant to their collective bargaining agreement.
On Friday, an Illinois appeals court overturned a preliminary injunction granted to the unions, rejecting their assertion that the matter should be left for the arbitrator to decide.
“The remedy plaintiff seeks in arbitration for the City’s alleged breach of section 8.4 of the CBA is the destruction of records which are within the scope of the Tribune’s and Sun-Times’ respective FOIA requests,” Sixth Division Appeals Court Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall wrote for the three-judge panel.
“However, an arbitration order directing the destruction of the requested records as a result of a breach of section 8.4 of the CBA would be unenforceable to the extent it would prevent disclosure under the FOIA. Therefore, there was no legal basis for the circuit court to enjoin defendants from releasing the requested records in order to allow plaintiff to pursue a legally unenforceable remedy at arbitration.”
The panel also rejected the unions’ claim that the complaint records are personnel files or disciplinary records exempt from disclosure, because Illinois courts have considered and rejected that argument.
“A citizen complaint, an officer’s date of appointment, the complaint category, the CR number, the incident date, the date the complaint was closed, and a finding of unfounded do not constitute a disciplinary report, letter of reprimand, or other record of disciplinary action that would require an inquiry under section 8 of the Review Act as plaintiff suggests,” Hall wrote.
Release of the records will shed light on the city’s practice of investigating citizen complaints made against police officers, and its policy of disciplining officers found to have crossed the line with their use of force, the judge wrote.
Appeals Court Justices Mary Rochford and Mathias Delort concurred in the opinion, on appeal from Cook County Court.
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