Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 19, 2016 and includes additional comments from the city of Chicago Law Department.
The city of Chicago will not release police reports of a teenager shot 16 times because he was a juvenile. The city says state law prohibits it from releasing the normally public documents, though a Northwestern University Law professor says the city is wrong. NBC5 News, which requested the documents, has appealed the city’s decision with the Illinois Attorney General’s office.
Warren Robinson, 16, was shot and killed after being chased by Chicago police in July 2014, three months before the now infamous Laquan McDonald shooting.
“Warren Robinson was a 16-year-old kid and three days before his birthday July 5th 2014 Warren Robinson was executed by the Chicago police department,” said attorney Michael Oppenheimer who represents the Robinson estate.
Oppenheimer says police responded to a call of a man with a gun, dressed in a hoodie with red lettering. He said they claimed Robinson ran and hid under a car in the 8700 block of South Sangamon, and when surrounded, pointed a gun at police, who opened fire.
In January NBC5 Investigates filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of all police reports involving Warren Robinson. Two months passed, longer than allowed by state law, with no documents. In its requests for extensions of the time to respond, indications were that the documents would be produced.
Then in March the city Law Department denied our request.
A Law Department spokesman said in an e-mail, “The State prohibits the City from releasing law enforcement records that relate to a minor who has been investigated, arrested or taken into custody before his or her 18th birthday.”
But the city’s take, said Northwestern University Law professor Sheila Bedi, is “absolutely false.”
“There is a binding Attorney Generals decision that says it cannot withhold information relating to a juvenile when the issue is police misconduct,” Bedi said.
But a city official disagreed. “While the Attorney General’s Office did issue a decision on this FOIA issue in 2012, the Juvenile Court Act has since been amended to address this issue and supersedes the PAC opinion,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.
"While the City is prohibited from releasing these records,” the email continued, “the Juvenile Court Act does provide a mechanism for a requester to obtain the records. After the City denies a request for these records, the requester can seek an order from the head of the juvenile court. The judge may consider and weigh public interest and privacy factors in their release. The City has no discretion and must deny a request for these records, however, the judge does have discretion, and requesters may find relief there.”
While the city wouldn’t release information, the Cook County Medical Examiner did. The autopsy shows Robinson was shot at least 11 times in the back and five times in the chest and arm. And the report contains a photo of a gun on the ground taken at the scene of the shooting.
Pat Camden, the Fraternal Order of Police spokesman who was on the scene not long after Robinson was shot, told reporters, “When police tell you to drop your gun, drop you gun and nothing is going to happen. You put an officer in fear of his life, he’s going to defend himself.”
But Oppenheimer disputes that Robinson had a gun.
“No he didn’t have a gun,” he said. “He was running from police. We have witnesses who say he was running without a weapon.”
Oppenheimer says no fingerprints were found on the weapon recovered at the scene.
Also on the scene that July 2014 night was Robinson’s legal guardian, Georgina Utendahl.
“He went to church, with his grandmother and me, also his sisters. Um he was a jokester,” she said that night.
In a recent interview she said Robinson did not belong to a gang, but had behavioral issues and had recently spent time in juvenile custody over an incident with a paintball gun. The family has filed a federal civil rights case claiming Chicago police acted recklessly.
“To this day I still feel like they were covering up something,” she said.
Now 20 months after the shooting, a spokesman for the Independent Review Police Authority says its investigation has not yet been completed.