EVANSTON, IL — In a letter to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office last week, Deputy City Attorney Nicholas Cummings sought to justify the city’s failure to provide records of discipline imposed on members of the Evanston Police Department in response to a public records request from Evanston Patch.
“Perhaps there was some miscommunications or misunderstanding,” Cummings suggested. “First, the City’s ‘denial’ was only partial, and only excluded certain records, included but not limited to records of discipline imposed.”
Under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, and the Personnel Record Review Act, only records of police misconduct that are less than four years old — and where the matter is a final outcome where discipline has been imposed — are required to be released by public bodies.
On June 24, Patch requested the identities of Evanston police officers who have been the subject of any form of discipline since 2016 and details about the discipline imposed. The statutory deadline for the response was July 6.
On Aug. 4, Deputy City Clerk Eduardo Gomez, who works out of the interim city manager’s office, claimed the city had released all documents requested. When he was asked about the police disciplinary records, Gomez said he spoke with the police department who promised the information within a day.
On Aug. 7, Gomez said city staff wanted another month to compile the information. He declined to say whether any search had been conducted during the four weeks it was already overdue.
On Aug. 18, paralegal Kina Robinson issued a denial of the request with regard to the disciplinary records, citing the Personnel Record Review Act and alleging — falsely, it turned out — that the records were exempt from release.
In response to what appeared to be a blatant violation of state public records law, Evanston Patch filed a request for review with the Public Access Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office on Aug. 18. The office first requested documentation from the city on Sept. 15, and Cummings responded on Oct. 8.
The deputy city attorney noted that Evanston police did eventually provide some records — a spreadsheet of 231 incidents that does not indicate how officers were disciplined was provided on Aug. 27. But he also offered a dubious implication — that the department does not keep track of what discipline it imposes on police.
“Based on the information provided by the Evanston Police department and the records it keeps with respect to the information sought by [Patch], the documents record discipline recommended rather than final discipline imposed,” Cummings said, in a letter to Assistant Attorney General Chris Boggs.
However, according to Interim City Manager Erika Storlie, the city does keep files showing discipline imposed on police officers.
“We do keep records of discipline for employees of the police department consistent with how we keep records of discipline for the rest of the employees of City — in their individual personnel files,” Storlie told Patch in an email.
Why did Cummings seem to tell the attorney general’s office that the city does not keep records of discipline it imposes on police? He says that is not what he meant — he was only referring to a particular spreadsheet which did not contain final disciplinary results.
“I never stated Evanston PD does not keep records of discipline,” Cummings said in an email Friday. “Of course the City keeps disciplinary records.”
Following the publication of this article, the deputy city attorney provided a fresh explanation for the city’s shifting responses — that it was too burdensome to provide records of that discipline actually imposed on officers because it would require sending them an email or a letter to their last known address on or before the records are released.
Published at Fri, 16 Oct 2020 19:03:00 +0000