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Federal Judge: Chicago Guilty of 'Bad Faith' for Refusing to Provide Documents in Police Shooting Case, Cites Ongoing Pattern of Conduct by City

by Lonnie Burton

In a sternly-worded 24-page order dated January 3, 2017, U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, found that Chicago city lawyers willfully and deliberately withheld relevant documents in a lawsuit involving a fatal police shooting. The sanctions represent the eighth time since 2011 a federal judge has punished the city for failing to turn over evidence in a police misconduct lawsuit.

The current case involves the fatal shooting of Divonte Young in August 2012. A plainclothes officer shot and killed Young in West Inglewood after authorities said Young opened fire on two people. However, police never found a gun on Young. Young's family sued the city of Chicago and the police in federal court for Divonte's wrongful death, and thereafter engaged in discovery with city lawyers. In February 2014, H. Candace Gorman, the Young family's attorney, asked the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), through city lawyers, for documents and videos related to witnesses who saw the shooting. The IPRA is the city agency that investigates all officer-involved shootings and other police misconduct allegations. Gorman, however, was told by a city attorney that the IPRA was not a city agency and thus she would have to ask the IPRA directly for the documents. An IPRA official later refused to give Gorman any documents, and told her she would have to go through city attorneys.

"Discovery became a game here," wrote Gottschall. "The City apparently waited six months during discovery negotiations to tell her that she needed to take additional steps to obtain IPRA documents."

"To say that it has been frustrating would be an understatement," Gorman said. "If I hadn't filed the subpoena and fought for the documents, I can't imagine how anyone could be sure they had everything."

As part of her order, Judge Gottschall ordered the city to turn over "all documents," stripping the city of normal legal protections that would allow it to withhold some documents, such as attorney-client communications and those that were part of the "deliberative process." The judge gave the city one week to turn over all the documents.

"The City's cavalier attitude toward the discovery process ... warrant findings of willfulness, fault, and bad faith," the judge wrote. Gottschall will hold a hearing to determine if the city should pay for Gorman's time and expenses in pursing the documents.

The city, however, maintains that disclosure of the documents will prove their irrelevance to the case, and that all sanctions will be lifted as a result. "These documents were properly withheld," city spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. "The City believes it has fully complied" with the court's orders and that the sanctions are unwarranted.

However, the punishment doled out by Gottschall marks the third time in six months the city has been sanctioned by a federal judge for withholding documents in a police misconduct lawsuit, and the eighth time since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011. Critics raised doubts about how the city's Law Department handles potential evidence in these cases, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. As part of an attempt to reform its behavior, the city sent about 60 cases -­including Young's -- to an outside law firm for a review of their discovery practices. In an example of you get what you pay for, the firm gave the city a "clean bill of health," according to McCaffrey.

Gorman, however, has noticed little improvement in the way the city handles discovery matters. The Young case is proof of that, she said.

"This [case) is not an outlier. This is the way the city plays." See: Young v. City of Chicago, Case No. 13 C 5651 (U.S.D.C. N.D. Ill.).


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Related legal case

Young v. City of Chicago