Chicago judge refuses to release names of accused officers; aldermen may sue

By Don Babwin

CHICAGO – A federal judge on Thursday refused to order the city to give aldermen the names of Chicago police officers accused of misconduct – a ruling that could prompt the aldermen to sue.

U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow said she no longer has jurisdiction to order the names released to aldermen because the city has appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, her July order to release the names publicly.

“The very question before the court of appeals is whether documents … are confidential,” she told attorneys who argued the appeals court case did not preclude her from releasing the names to only aldermen.

At issue are the names of 662 officers accused of abusing civilians in more than 10 complaints from 2001 to 2006. In July, the aldermen were given the list of officers, but the names were blacked out.

Lefkow also suggested the 28 aldermen who filed their motion earlier this week were free to sue the city for the documents.

Alderman Ed Smith, who attended Thursday’s hearing, sounded ready to accept Lefkow’s suggestion.

“If the general public needs it and wants (the documents), I think we have the responsibility to push as hard as we possibly can,” Smith said. “If we have to do (sue the city), I’ll support it.”

The decision was a setback for the aldermen, who say to do their job properly they need to see which officers have been repeatedly accused of misconduct.

“A majority of the members of the City Council want to see the names of police officers who have had very high incidence of misconduct complaints,” attorney Matt Piers said after the hearing. “They ought to be able to see that.”

Interim Police Supt. Dana Starks and Mayor Richard Daley have defended the decision to not release the names, citing officers’ right to privacy if they haven’t been found guilty of doing anything wrong. Starks has contended releasing the names could compromise officers’ safety and says the list doesn’t indicate complaints’ seriousness, which could range from brutality to something as minor as a parking violation. This dispute comes amid ongoing controversy for a police department that has been rocked by a series of allegations.