War of Words Between City, Attorney Who Sued for Laquan McDonald Video

Latest clash over city e-mails

A war of words has erupted between the Chiacgo Law Department and the attorney who won the release of the LaQuan McDonald video. The fight is over hundreds of emails the city released on New Year's Eve, many of which contain portions that are blacked out.

The dispute began following the city’s response to an NBC 5 and NBCChicago.com story marking the six-month anniversary of the release of the McDonald video.

The attorney, Matt Topic, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of his client Brandon Smith on March 8 asking that the city be ordered to release unredacted e-mails concerning the fatal shooting of the 17-year-old near a Burger King restaurant at 41st and Pulaski.

“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 in an interview with NBC 5. “They were redacted and we don’t think that was properly redacted.”

For our story the city responded with a statement that it produced more than 3000 pages of emails after more than 30 requests for public records and that it offered to each requester, “…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.”

Topic replied: “The claim that Mr. Smith ‘chose to have Mr. Topic file a lawsuit rather than articulate to the City what additional records he seeks’ is incorrect.”

In a series of emails provided to NBCChicago.com. Topic asked for additional clarification about why items were redacted, the scope of the search for other emails and that the search include the words “Burger King” as well as the name of McDonald’s mother and the attorneys, Jeffrey Neslund and Michael Robbins, who represented her.

Without a resolution, on Feb. 19 Topic wrote to Amber Ritter, an official in the Law Department.

“Can you respond by the end of the day tomorrow? As I mentioned, we're willing to try to avoid litigation on this but we need to bring this to a close.”

But according to a statement from the City Law Department, Topic’s complaints were generic and “continue(s) to raise only general issues without elaboration.”

On March 8, a federal lawsuit was filed asking the emails be produced without redactions.

It took the action of a Cook County judge to force the city to release the LaQuan McDonald video, despite efforts by the city Law Department to block it’s release.

“The public deserves total transparency on this issue,” Topic said as he and Smith continue to pursue the emails in court.  “Had we not done so when the City refused to produce the Laquan McDonald video, the important events of the last six months would never have happened.”

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