To Deny FOIA, Public Body Must Prove Investigation is Ongoing and that Disclosure of Would Obstruct Investigation
The Village of Melrose Park Police Department (Department) violated FOIA by improperly denying a FOIA request from the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE).
On November 17, 2021, Requestor, a Senior Paralegal for CAASE, submitted a request to the Department on behalf of one of her clients who reported a sexual assault to the Department in April. Requestor sought copies of “all records created and maintained by [Department] regarding [the client’s] report and [the Department’s] investigation, including but not limited to any and all supplements and handwritten notes. (Emphasis in original.)”
The Department denied the request the following day. The Department cited sections 7(1)(d)(ii) and 7(1)(d)(vii) of FOIA in their denial letter. In the letter to Requestor’s attorney, the Department stated that the records “are related to an ongoing investigation and/or proceeding[,]” and that “the disclosure of these records may reasonably interfere with the…investigation in this matter.”
Section 7(1)(d)(ii) of FOIA says that records held by a public body are exempt if they would, “interfere with pending or actually and reasonably contemplated law enforcement proceedings conducted by law enforcement[.]” Similarly, section 7(1)(d)(vii) of FOIA states that records that “obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation by the agency that is the recipient of the request” are exempt from disclosure as well.
The PAC held that the Department failed to provide a specific reason as to why the requested records should be exempted from disclosure. The PAC stated that the Department did not demonstrate how the records related to any "active administrative enforcement proceeding[.]" The PAC said that the Department also did not establish that a criminal investigation was ongoing nor did it even demonstrate how the disclosure of the requested records would obstruct such an investigation.
The PAC noted that section 2.15(a) of FOIA requires municipalities to disclose certain arrestee information, and that the Department failed to show why disclosing this information would obstruct an investigation or potentially harm law enforcement personnel. For these reasons, the PAC held that the Department violated FOIA by refusing to disclose the requested records and ordered them to do so.
This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.