City agrees to pay $62,500 over delayed police shooting records

(BBC World Service/Flickr)

CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) - The City of Chicago has agreed to pay more than $60,000 to attorneys who are suing over a fatal police shooting after a federal judge found the city gave the lawyers the runaround on producing documents critical to their lawsuit.

The agreement — forged earlier this month and enforced by a federal court order — to pay $62,500 to the attorneys for the mother of Divonte Young came after U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall found the city acted in “bad faith” when Young’s attorneys subpoenaed records of the shooting, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting. Gottschall eventually ordered the production of the records.

“Nothing in the record suggests that the City had any intention of complying with the subpoena before the court ordered it to do so,” Gottschall wrote in January 2017.

The lawsuit was filed by Young’s mother in August 2013, one year after a plainclothes Chicago Police officer shot and killed the 20-year-old man near the corner of 63rd and Honore in West Englewood. The case is pending.

Authorities said the officer shot him after Young was seen shooting at other people. The shooting was found justified after an 18-month-long investigation by the since-disbanded Independent Police Review Authority. An autopsy found Young was shot in the back. No weapon was found near him, nor did his hands have traces of gunshot residue.

Court records show that Gottschall made her “bad faith” determination after an attorney for Young’s mother went to the City for the IPRA records. The attorney, H. Candace Gorman, was told the City could not provide those records because IPRA was a separate entity. IPRA, in turn, told Gorman that the shooting records would have to come from the city.

For its part, the city maintains “that its attorneys acted in good faith.”

“However, we accept the judge’s ruling that the city should pay some measure of attorney’s fees and costs associated with resolving this discovery dispute,” Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said in an emailed statement. “In order to avoid further litigation, we reached an agreement with the plaintiff’s counsel regarding the amount.”

The much-maligned IPRA was disbanded earlier this year and replaced with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a new independent agency charged with investigating police misconduct.

McCaffrey added that the Law Department has worked with COPA “to develop a protocol for obtaining documents that are in COPA’s possession” that are relevant to discovery requests.

“However, if opposing counsel makes what the Law Department believes is an overbroad, burdensome, or otherwise inappropriate discovery request, the Law Department will continue to make appropriate objections,” McCaffrey added.

According to court records, Gorman’s subpoena was for “The complete investigative file for the incident that occurred on August 9, 2012 resulting in the death of Divonte Young. Plaintiff seeks all investigative documents including but not limited to internal communications, external communications, e-mails, notes, facsimilies (sic).”

Gorman described the negotiations with the City as “very cordial” and were “based on a compromise of my fees.”

The discovery dispute, Gorman estimated, delayed the case’s proceedings “by over a year.”

“I think, eventually, the city is going to lose this case unless they settle,” she said.