Public Access Opinion 20-008

Juvenile Court Act Doesn’t Prevent Disclosure of Police Records

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 20-008
Date: Monday, December 21, 2020

The PAC held that the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff) violated FOIA by improperly withholding a police report involving the alleged sexual assault of a named minor.
On September 1, 2020, Lawyer submitted a FOIA request to the Sheriff seeking a copy of a July 2013 police report involving the alleged sexual assault of a named minor. In the request, Lawyer indicated the report was for his client, the father of the named minor, for a civil matter. Two days later, the Sheriff denied the FOIA request in its entirety based on Section 7(1)(a) of FOIA (which exempts the disclosure of information specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law), simply stating it could not disclose juvenile reports. Lawyer then asked the PAC to review.
The PAC construed the Sheriff’s denial under Section 7(1)(a) as asserting that the Juvenile Court Act (JCA) prohibited disclosure of the police report. On September 15, 2020 the PAC, in a non-binding determination letter, informed the Sheriff that the JCA did not prohibit disclosure of records concerning crimes committed by adults against minors, and it asked the Sheriff if it would change its position on the disclosure. The Sheriff did not respond. Next, the PAC asked the Sheriff to provide it with copies of the withheld police report, along with a detailed explanation of the factual and legal bases for its assertion that Section 7(1)(a) of FOIA allowed it to withhold the police report. This time the Sheriff replied to the PAC, and it eventually provided a copy of the police report to the PAC.
On review, the PAC noted that the Sheriff did not provide any arguments or legal authority in support of the supposed Section 7(1)(a) exemption. Instead, the Sheriff simply asserted that “the police report in question…is entirely juvenile related” and because the report “pertains to the questioning of the juvenile and what happened to him” they were prohibited from disclosing it. The PAC noted that the Illinois Appellate Court requires a public body to provide a detailed rationale to satisfy its burden of demonstrating that records are exempt under FOIA, yet here the Sheriff’s response was “generalized and conclusory” – so the Sheriff did not meet its burden.
Even so, the PAC evaluated for itself whether the police report could be withheld under Section 7.5(bb) of FOIA, which expressly exempts from disclosure “information which is or was prohibited from disclosure by the Juvenile Court Act.” Looking to the JCA, the PAC noted that Section 1-7A of the JAC states that juvenile law enforcement records may be accessed by the minor who is the subject of investigation, arrest, or custodial detention along with the minor’s parents and any of their legal representatives. Moreover, Section 1-3(8.2) of the JCA defines “juvenile law enforcement record” as those relating to a minor suspected of committing an offense – not those where the minor is a victim, witness, or missing juvenile. Since the police report at issue involved a minor as a victim, the PAC found the JCA does not apply and therefore Section 7.5(bb) of FOIA does not exempt the report from disclosure. The PAC held that the Sheriff’s Office violated FOIA and directed the immediate disclosure of the police report to Lawyer. 
This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.