We are struck by the contrast between the release of video by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office of abuse of prisoners — without prodding — and the decision by Chicago officials to withhold a video requested by WMAQ of a 2014 police shooting.
The situations are not exactly parallel; Sheriff Tom Dart released video at the end of a disciplinary process, while the city’s decision in the case of the shooting of Warren Robinson was based, city officials said, on their interpretation of state law involving minors.
Of course, as Northwestern University Law Professor Sheila Bedi told WMAQ, the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a binding opinion four years ago that is directly contrary to the city’s interpretation. That opinion involved a Chicago Tribune reporter asking for the report into the investigation of the 2012 fatal shooting by Calumet City police of Stephen Watts, 15, inside his home. Watts suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, and police had repeated been called to help quell disturbances in the past.
The Illinois State Police had investigated the case, and refused to turn over the records citing state law that requires the withholding concerning the arrest, investigation or disposition of juveniles. But the attorney general’s office ruled then that the law did not apply: For one thing, the state police investigation concerned the police conduct, not Watts. For another, the law protecting juvenile records was designed to help their rehabilitation, and not permanently hinder them — concerns that would not apply to the victim of a fatal shooting.
Nevertheless, the city has used that same justification to turn down WMAQ’s request for records involving the shooting death of Robinson.
For our money, we prefer officials who work to make these cases transparent and open — however awful they may be — than officials who work to fight open disclosure.