Civil Rights Group Sues Chicago Over Preservation of 911 Tapes

City Routinely Violates the Law By Destroying Tapes After Only 30 Days, Jeopardizing Defendants’ Ability to Challenge Police & Others’ Accounts of Crimes

CHICAGO – Attorneys with the Chicago Civil Rights Project filed suit against the City of Chicago today for the failure of the City’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications to routinely preserve 911 tapes, in clear violation of Illinois’ Local Records Act (LRA – 50 ILCS 205).

Since many defendants aren’t arrested, let alone able to secure representation within the narrow 30-day window during which records are currently preserved, evidence that could prove useful for their defense is routinely lost.

Not preserving this evidence heightens the risk that innocent people are wrongfully convicted and serve prison terms that they shouldn’t. Civil suit plaintiffs who feel their rights have been violated by police and others are also deprived of evidence that could buttress their claims.

“The cost of preserving this important evidence is at most a few thousand dollars with technology that has been readily available for several years now,” said Nick Albukerk, a volunteer and co-founder of the Chicago Civil Rights Project (CCRP), an organization of Chicago-area attorneys dedicated to civil rights and police accountability. “Balanced against the financial, let alone human cost of just one wrongful conviction, it is unconscionable that the City refuses to preserve this evidence.”

As the suit (No. 2017-CH-04038) notes,

For a cost of less than $10,000, OEMC could purchase sufficient computer memory to store 20 years of 911 calls…. The LRA conditions destruction of 911 recordings on a certification by OEMC that the recordings for which disposal is sought comply with the conditions in the Application: that the recordings in question do not contain any relevant evidence in any proceeding either pending or anticipated.”

Officers of OEMC have certified for decades that the 911 recordings that they seek to destroy meet the above conditions without conducting any affirmative investigation and with knowledge that the current system is inadequate to ensure compliance

The fact that OEMC violates the Local Records Act by routinely destroying 911 records after 30 days was confirmed by a federal judge’s ruling in last year’s Colyer v. City of Chicago case.

“It is unfortunate that we have to resort to suing the City in order to force it to do what should be a routine administrative procedure,” said Albukerk. “The City’s refusal to implement inexpensive, common sense procedures to ensure defendants’ rights is a waste of taxpayer funds and serves to reinforce the City’s negative national reputation as being laggards in ensuing the fair administration of justice.”

The Chicago Civil Rights Project is represented in the suit by Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, the firm which successfully obtained the release of the dashcam video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting death at the hands of Chicago police.



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