In the latest chapter of a two-year fight for answers, Judge Pamela Meyerson ruled Thursday that the Chicago Police Department must publicly release its investigation of a crash involving two of its officers.
NBC 5 Investigates had sued to get the records released after four separate Freedom of Information Act requests were denied. During her ruling in a Cook County courtroom Thursday, Judge Meyerson said the city committed a "willful violation" of the Freedom of Information Act.
"It was hard to believe [Chicago Police] didn't respond to the request at all," said attorney Josh Burday.
Burday works for Loevy & Loevy, which filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of NBC 5.
On Oct. 26, 2017, a lone Chicago police SUV was found heavily damaged in a sewer ditch that had been under construction at 83rd Street and Woodlawn Avenue in the Avalon Park neighborhood.
Two police officers were injured in the crash, including one who had to be cut out of the car by firefighters. The officers’ names and genders were never released, though police did say that one of the officers was 25 years old, and the other was 33.
NBC 5 Investigates wanted to find out what caused that early morning crash, asking for video, audio, crash reports, toxicology reports, and more. The police department denied the FOIA requests, and city attorneys fought the lawsuit.
They argued the department cannot release the records because the police department is still investigating.
"Anyone who's been involved in a car accident knows an investigation doesn't take years," said Burday.
In ruling in favor of NBC 5, Judge Meyerson said the city must release the records within 30 days. City lawyers did not comment on the decision, and they could also appeal.
On the day of the crash, the construction site was heavily marked with signs and concrete barriers. City officials were not sure how exactly the incident happened, but revealed the officers were not in pursuit of another car.
“We’re not sure if the construction zone was properly marked (or if) somebody moved some of the barriers,” then-Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said later that morning. “We just don’t know.”
Chicago police said the investigation was being handled by the department's Bureau of Internal Affairs but did not give a timeline on the inquiry nor potential discipline the officers could face.
“The Chicago Police Department is still conducting an investigation into this incident and therefore the records are being properly withheld at this time,” said a city law department spokesman via email last year. “Once the investigation is complete and any discipline is imposed, the records can be released in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act.”