As I’ve recently discussed, there has been a great deal of litigation about whether internal investigation files reflecting complaints of police misconduct should be accessible to the public.
Yesterday, Judge James Zagel issued a very helpful decision in the case Henry et al. v. Centeno, 10 C 6364. The City of Chicago challenged Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez’s decision that complaint registers (police department records reflecting civilian complaints of police misconduct, usually called “CRs”) should not be subject to a protective order prohibiting the parties from distributing and discussing the records. Judge Zagel upheld Judge Valdez’s decision, writing:
Privacy interests will often be sufficient to establish good cause for a protective order. Where the information at issue relates solely to the public duties of a public employee, however, the claim to that privacy interest is far more tenuous.
Judge Zagel rejected the City’s argument that records of “unsustained” or “unfounded” complaints (those that the department terminated in the officer’s favor) should be kept private because they were nothing more than allegations of misconduct. Judge Zagel approvingly cited the Illinois Appellate Court decision in Gekas v. Williamson, 912 N.E.2d 347 (Ill. App. Ct. 2009), in which the court explained:
…[C]itizens might want to see whether the Division is performing a fair and objective investigation of complaints. They might want to see whether complaints that the Division determined to be unfounded are really unfounded. Obviously, citizens cannot perform this critique … if so-called “unfounded” complaints are exempt from disclosure for the tautological reason that the public body decided they were unfounded.