KANKAKEE — In July, the city promptly released its internal report that cleared three police officers. But the city is taking a secretive approach with a similar report in another case.
Late last week, the city informed the Daily Journal that it would not disclose internal affairs inspector Ronald Bartlett’s report on a firefighter incident. He investigated an allegation that a male firefighter attacked a female colleague during a fatal fire last October.
Don Craven, an attorney for the Illinois Press Association, said he did not know how the city could legally refuse to disclose the report.
“By and large, the factual background should be released,” he said.
The city’s denial flies in the face of its decision over the summer to divulge Bartlett’s report about a suspect’s complaint that three city police officers beat him up during his arrest. The city has not explained this apparent inconsistency.
Earlier last week, the city released reports about the final outcome of Lt. Nathan Boyce’s disciplinary matter involving the incident. But without explanation, it did not release Bartlett’s report. After the newspaper inquired, the city issued the denial.
Bartlett’s report was reportedly unfinished when Fire Chief Damon Schuldt in November suspended Boyce for a day after finding the lieutenant attacked Lt. Michelle Giese during a fire that resulted in a fatality.
In its denial to the newspaper, the city cited state law allowing it to keep secret documents related to the adjudication of disciplinary cases. Yet, the case was adjudicated by the time Bartlett completed his report.
The city also cited an exemption under state law that allows secrecy if releasing documents could deprive someone of a fair trial. While Giese sued Boyce and the city in federal court, this exemption generally applies to criminal cases, not civil ones such as Giese’s. Boyce faces no criminal charges in the incident.
The city also said disclosure would mean releasing the identity of witnesses and the victim, although the city divulged her name in last week’s document release.
As for the witnesses, that information could be blacked out, said Craven, the Illinois Press Association lawyer.
In an interview, Alderman Tyler Tall, D-5, said the council has not been shown the internal affairs report on the incident. He said he would like to see it.
“That should come to the council,” he said.
However, Alderman Carl Brown, D-7, declined to comment on the matter, including even whether he wanted to see Bartlett’s report.
City Council members contacted in August said they had no idea about Giese’s federal lawsuit until the newspaper reported about it. Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong chastised the Daily Journal for even writing about the litigation, saying such reporting does not benefit the community.
The city took more than a month to respond to the Daily Journal’s request for documents on the alleged firefighter assault, missing deadlines under state law.