Does the Freedom of Information Act trump a police union contract? A Sangamon County Circuit Judge will soon decide the fate of so-far unreleased Springfield Police internal affairs files.
Attorney Ron Stone, representing the Police Benevolent and Protective Association Unit 5, says the files — dating back as far as 2001 — should have been destroyed according to the contract, but weren’t.
“We have fairly clearly defined rights in the contract that were violated,” Stone told reporters. “But for the fact that they were violated, the files would not have been in existence, and so we feel our rights predated the rights that were created by the FOIA request.”
Former Police Chief Robert Williams, in April, issued a Memorandum of Understanding that allowed internal affairs files to be destroyed after four years instead of five. It was later learned that MOU was issued after certain records were requested under the Freedom of Information Act, that were older than four years old but newer than five years old.
The files in question date back as far as 2001, and were not destroyed after the MOU was issued.
Attorney Esther Seitz, on the other side of the equation, says it’s not her client’s concern that the files should have been destroyed — the fact is, she says, they weren’t.
“Surely the city’s not under obligation to keep files forever,” said Seitz. “But if there’s a request for that file and that file still exists, it needs to be handed over.”
Seitz says state law trumps a collective bargaining agreement. Schmidt will issue his ruling no later than next Friday. Both sides say they’ll appeal if they’re ruled against.