A lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges the Chicago Police Department has used the coronavirus pandemic and recent protests as “cover” to deny criminal suspects their legal right to speak with attorneys.
The lawsuit filed by the Cook County Public Defender's Office and activists from Black Lives Matter Chicago and other groups says police often refuse to tell attorneys where their clients are being held and frequently violate a state law allowing suspects to contact attorneys within an hour after being taken into custody.
A survey of defendants showed that over a two-month period since the pandemic hit, about a quarter of the defendants reported they had to wait at least five hours to make a call, according to the lawsuit. Another quarter of the defendants reported they were never allowed to make a call while in custody at a Chicago police station.
The police department has “denied and continues to deny arrestees legal representation and telephone access, using the COVID-19 pandemic and recent community protests as cover for their unlawful conduct," the lawsuit alleges.
The city's law department said in a statement: “We strongly disagree that the City, through its agents at the CPD, maintains policies intended to prevent detainees from accessing legal representation.”
Public Defender Amy Campanelli said in the lawsuit that after her office moved to allow attorneys to talk to clients over the phone instead of in-person visits in an effort to protect the health of both the attorneys and others, the police department subsequently refused to set up a place where defendants and the attorneys could talk privately on the phone.
Further, at the same time attorneys were being told they could not allow them to speak to the attorneys by phone, the police department's general counsel notified Campanelli's office that her attorneys would “have to come to the stations in person in order to meet with clients, regardless of the health risks involved," according to the lawsuit.
The police department declined to comment on pending litigation, in a letter to Campanelli that is included in the lawsuit, the police department's general counsel, Dana O'Malley, explained there are good reasons why it would be impossible to set up the kind of room Campanelli suggests, starting with the fact that the rooms where attorneys now meet their clients do not have telephone lines.
But, he said, steps have been taken to help protect the health of the attorneys, including regular cleanings of police stations and a willingness to provide attorneys who visit the stations with masks and gloves “for their safety."