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NBC Subsidiary (WMAQ-TV) LLC v. The Chicago Police Department

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

September 5, 2019

NBC SUBSIDIARY (WMAQ-TV) LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 17 CH 09589 Honorable Neil H. Cohen, Judge, presiding.

          Edward N. Siskel, Corporation Counsel, of Chicago (Benna Ruth Solomon, Myriam Zreczny Kasper, and Jonathon D. Byrer, Assistant Corporation Counsel, of counsel), for appellant.

          Matthew Topic, Joshua Burday, and Merrick Wayne, of Loevy & Loevy, of Chicago, for appellee.

          JUSTICE LAMPKIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hoffman and Justice Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          LAMPKIN JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Chicago-based NBC Subsidiary (WMAQ-TV) LLC (WMAQ), sued defendant, the Chicago Police Department (CPD), seeking disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2016)) of records related to the 2014 fatal shooting of 16-year-old W.R. by police officers.

         ¶ 2 The circuit court granted WMAQ's partial summary judgment motion but denied CPD's cross-motion for summary judgment. The court ruled that the records concerning the investigation of W.R. for a criminal offense were exempt from disclosure under FOIA due to confidentiality provisions applicable to the law enforcement records of minors pursuant to the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/1-1 et seq. (West 2016)). However, the court ordered CPD to produce the records of the investigation of the police shooting of W.R., which were not exempt from disclosure.

         ¶ 3 The CPD appealed, arguing that (1) the confidentiality provisions of the Act extended to cover the police shooting investigation because the shooting victim was a minor and (2) WMAQ failed to obtain, in compliance with the Act, an order from the juvenile court authorizing the disclosure of the police shooting investigation records.

         ¶ 4 For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.[1] We hold that FOIA's disclosure exemption for information prohibited from disclosure by state law did not apply to a request for records related to the investigation of police officers who fatally shot a minor because those police investigation records did not "relate to a minor who has been investigated" within the meaning of the confidentiality provisions of the Act.

         ¶ 5 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 6 On July 5, 2014, Chicago police officers fatally shot 16-year-old W.R. Shortly thereafter, the superintendent of the CPD gave a statement about the shooting, disclosing that it involved a 16-year-old young man who had a number of arrests in his past and was armed with a .380 caliber automatic firearm with six live rounds. The young man was pursued for "quite some time" and eventually hid under a vehicle. He pointed the firearm at officers on numerous occasions, was shot by the officers, and subsequently expired. The incident was observed by four civilian witnesses, one of whom photographed the young man standing on the corner with the firearm and sent the photo to the police afterwards. Also, the independent police review board released W.R.'s name, the date and time of the incident, and the type of incident.

         ¶ 7 In January 2016, WMAQ filed a FOIA request with CPD, asking for "all police reports, case reports, case incident reports and supplemental reports filed in the police shooting" of W.R. But CPD denied the request on the grounds that the Act barred the disclosure of these records to unauthorized parties. WMAQ sought review by the public access counselor of the Illinois Attorney General's office pursuant to section 9.5 of FOIA (5 ILCS 140/9.5 (West 2016)).

         ¶ 8 In February 2016, the public access counselor issued a nonbinding determination letter that concluded CPD violated the requirements of FOIA by withholding all of the records concerning an investigation into the police shooting death of W.R., a minor. The requested information was categorized under two separate case numbers: No. HX332686, which contained reports that labeled W.R. as the possible suspect and investigated whether he committed a criminal offense, and No. HX348081, which contained reports that listed W.R. as the victim and investigated whether his fatal shooting by police officers was a justifiable homicide. The public access counselor concluded that the former case, which concerned an alleged offense by a minor, was subject to the confidentiality provisions of the Act, which prohibited disclosure to an unauthorized party, and thus the CPD did not violate FOIA by withholding those reports. The latter case, however, concerned the conduct of police officers, and CPD did not meet its burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that these reports were exempt from disclosure. The public access counselor requested CPD to disclose the nonexempt reports, subject only to the redaction of certain specified private or personal information.

         ¶ 9 CPD did not produce the records concerning the investigation of the police shooting, so in July 2017, WMAQ sued CPD, seeking disclosure under FOIA of all reports filed in the police shooting of W.R. on or around July 5, 2014. Thereafter, WMAQ filed a motion for partial summary judgment and CPD filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.

         ¶ 10 In February 2018, the circuit court granted WMAQ's motion for partial summary judgment and denied CPD's cross-motion. The court ruled that the Act's prohibitions against disclosure to an unauthorized party of the law enforcement records related to the investigation, arrest or custody of minors did not apply to the records of the investigation of the conduct of the police officers involved in the shooting of a minor. The court concluded that W.R.'s status as a minor did not transform WMAQ's request for information about the police shooting investigation into a request for the minor's exempt confidential records. The court ordered CPD to produce all records responsive to WMAQ's FOIA request subject to redaction of any information directly related to any criminal investigation, arrest or custody of W.R. ¶ 11 In March 2018, the circuit court denied CPD's motion for reconsideration but granted CPD's motion for leave to file the records under seal so the court could conduct an in camera review. The court required CPD to file under seal two versions of the records, one redacted in accordance with FOIA and the other unredacted. After conducting an in camera review, the court, in May 2018, ruled that (1) the records concerning the criminal investigation of W.R. were not at issue in this case and would not be produced and (2) the redactions made to the records concerning the investigation of the police shooting of W.R. were proper, except that CPD must disclose the minor's name and gang affiliation.

         ¶ 12 In June 2018, the circuit court entered an agreed order, stating that (1) partial summary judgment was granted for WMAQ, (2) the parties agreed to stay production of the records pending the outcome of the appeal, and (3) all other issues between the parties ...


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