Public Access Opinion 19-010

Improper Non-Disclosure of Officer-Worn Body Camera Recordings

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 19-010
Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The City of Waukegan (City) violated FOIA by refusing to disclose office-worn body camera recordings of the arrest and death of a suspect.

On July 1, 2019, a Waukegan resident (Requestor) submitted a FOIA request to the City for copies of “"all dash Cam, body camera video and audio recordings leading up to as well as the attempted arrest and death of [the arrestee]…[on] Thursday, June 27, 2019." The City provided Requestor with some information from the incident, but denied the requested camera recordings based on Sections 7(1)(d)(i) and 7(1)(d)(vii) of FOIA and the Law Enforcement Officer-Worn Body Camera Act (Body Camera Act, 50 ILCS 706/). Section 7(1)(d)(i) of FOIA states that requests that “interfere with pending or actually and reasonably contemplated law enforcement proceedings conducted by any law enforcement…” may be exempt from FOIA. Section 7(1)(d)(vii) likewise exempts public bodies from FOIA requests that would, “obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation by the agency that is the recipient of the request.” Section 10-20(b) of the Body Camera Act states that “[r]ecordings made with the use of an officer-worn body camera are not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Requestor submitted a Request for Review to PAC on July 18, 2019, contesting the withholding of the camera recordings. The City responded by providing the PAC with copies of the responsive camera recordings, along with related records, and asserting that there were two open investigations related to the suspect. The City argued that “premature disclosure would inhibit impartial resolution" and that “disclosure presents a risk to the safety and the potential of intimidation of witnesses and their families.” The PAC rejected the City’s arguments for non-disclosure, finding them vague and stating that “[t]he City did not explain how disclosure would pose a risk to the life or physical safety of any person” and “did not set forth facts as to how disclosure of these particular body camera recordings would interfere with any ongoing investigation or other law enforcement proceedings.” Moreover, Section 10-20(b) of the Body Camera Act also provides that body camera recordings flagged “due to the filing of a complaint, discharge of a firearm, use of force, arrest or detention, or resulting death or bodily harm” must be disclosed pursuant to FOIA. The PAC ordered the City to immediately disclose copies of the recordings to the Requestor, subject only to any redactions required by the Body Camera Act.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.