DOJ Requests Documents in Chicago Police Probe

The U.S. Justice Department asked the city to turn over policies on how Chicago police officers use their personal cell phones to record video and audio while on duty.

The request is part of a federal probe following the death of LaQuan McDonald, the teen shot 16-times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014. Van Dyke, charged with first-degree murder, has entered a plea of not guilty.

In December Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a “pattern and practice” investigation of the Chicago Police Department.

City officials have received four requests for documents dating back to December 30, 2015, according to information released through a Freedom of Information Act request. The latest request was issued April 18.

Among the documents requested:

  • The name, rank and assignment for each police officer
  • The organizational chart for the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)
  • All policies dealing with “use of force”
  • Collective bargaining agreements for CPD employees
  • How citizen complaints of misconduct are resolved
  • How officers respond to a mental health crisis
  • How canine units are used to “locate and apprehend a suspect.”
  • “Policies concerning…use of…personal cell phone, camera, video- or audio-recording equipment in the performance of their duties.”

“I think one of the important lessons for people over the course of the last 6 or 9 months is we need to demand transparency and we need to be prepared to fight for it,” said Matt Topic, the attorney who successfully sued the city requiring the release of the LaQuan McDonald video.

His current target is the hundreds of emails released by the city in December, many of which have sections blacked out.

“I think we still don’t have a full accounting of everything that happened,” he said. “We know what happened in the shooting. We know that the official account was wrong. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how that happened.”

In the six months since the video was released the mayor, fired former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy; hired a new Superintendent, Eddie Johnson; reformed IPRA; moved to abolish IPRA apologized before the City Council; and saw his political power challenged.

Though the big public demonstrations are gone, smaller protests continue to pop up and anger remains as the mayor’s popularity plunged to a 25 percent approval rating, according to a recent New York Times poll.

The city law department declined an interview request regarding the lawsuit involving the redacted emails, but noted in a written statement that it sought to provide “complete transparency” by releasing more than 3000 pages of emails.

“We informed each requestor that, if they did not feel the response satisfied their original request, we would work with them to identify and produce any other materials that may have not been captured by our extremely broad search and production. To date, no one has followed up on this offer with the exception of Mr. Smith, who chose to have Mr. Topic file a lawsuit rather than articulate to the City what additional records he seeks,” the statement concluded.

But questions remain, according to Topic, about how transparent the city was in releasing hundreds of official, but redacted, emails on New Year’s Eve. 

“There were a lot of materials that were redacted in which people seemed to be discussing circumstances of the case or how it was going to be handled or what information might be released,” Topic said. “They were redacted and we don’t think that was properly redacted.”

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