CHICAGO — The city’s police watchdog blocked Anjanette Young from receiving video of her home being wrongfully raided by police in 2019, newly released emails show.
The raid of Young’s home — and the city’s handling of its aftermath — has become a crisis for Mayor Lori Lightfoot in recent weeks. She was not mayor when it took place, but her administration fought Young’s attempts to obtain videos of the raid and initially sought to punish her attorney for providing the video to CBS2, which broadcast the footage earlier this month.
Lightfoot has since criticized her own administration for not providing the videos to Young, saying victims should always be provided with such videos when they request them.
But the emails, released Wednesday by the Mayor’s Office, show city officials were worried about the release of the videos and news reports on them.
The emails also show it was the Civilian Office of Police Accountability — an agency meant to investigate police misconduct — that ended up blocking Young’s access to the videos by opening an investigation into the raid the same day Young was supposed to be provided the videos. Chicago Police Department officials then cited that pending investigation as the reason it wouldn’t give Young the videos.
More than a year later, the COPA investigation remains open.
The wrongful raid on Young’s home occurred in February 2019. Young filed a Freedom of Information Act request Nov. 1, 2019 seeking police video of the incident.
Young’s request was eventually denied, and she was only given the videos after filing a federal lawsuit against the city. She later withdrew the lawsuit.
The now-released videos from the raid show officers bursting into Young’s home as she prepared for bed. She was unable to put on clothes or answer the door before officers barreled through.
The officers searched Young’s home as she was left naked and handcuffed. Young, visibly distressed in the video, told the officers she lives alone and they had the wrong home.
The emails shows how on Nov. 11, 2019 — the same day Lightfoot was alerted to the raid in an email — city officials in the Mayor’s Office, Police Department and Law Department were scrambling to respond to Young’s request and preparing for an upcoming report by CBS2 that would highlight the wrongful raid.
A separate request for videos from CBS2 had already been denied, but then-Deputy Press Secretary Patrick Mullane emailed other city officials the station “would likely still receive the footage from [Young] and include it in their story for tomorrow night.”
The emails also show how Susan Lee, then the deputy mayor for public safety, forwarded Lightfoot a detailed description of the incident and said the videos could be released to Young the following day.
“Mayor, please see below for a pretty bad wrongful raid coming out tomorrow. Media FOIA was denied and victim FOIA request is in the works and to be released to her tomorrow within the deadline period,” Lee wrote.
The next day — Nov. 12, 2019, when the city was supposed to either produce the videos or deny Young’s request — Vaughn Ganiyu, a Police Department attorney, asked COPA if they had opened an investigation into a “search warrant operation” and provided details on the Young case.
“If there is an open COPA investigation, CPD is requesting to know whether the release of 22 videos related to the search warrant incident to [Young] would interfere with it’s ongoing investigation,” Ganiyu wrote before providing “relevant information” on the incident, including Young’s address and the police officers who conducted the raid.
COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy told Block Club the agency began its investigation Nov. 12, 2019, “after becoming aware that a lawsuit had been filed.”
“COPA immediately commenced an investigation inclusive of the acquisition of body worn camera evidence, CPD records, other documentary evidence and the solicitation of an interview of Ms. Young through her attorney,” Eaddy said.
In a City Council committee hearing last week, COPA Chief Administrator Sydney Roberts also told aldermen the investigation began Nov. 12 after the agency learned of a lawsuit Young filed against the city in a “non-traditional” manner.
But the emails released Wednesday provide a more complete picture of how the COPA investigation prevented Young from obtaining the videos.
After Young’s FOIA request, the city asked for a five business-day extension to respond, a provision allowed by the law and frequently used by public bodies. During the five-day extension, the emails show police officials reviewed the video and made redactions ahead of the pending release to Young.
On Nov. 15, 2019, Ganiyu followed up with COPA, again asking the agency to search its database and let him know “as soon as possible” if there was a pending investigation.
On Nov. 18, 2019, one day ahead of the new deadline to respond to Young, Jason Szczepanski, a FOIA officer working for COPA, confirmed the “pending investigation” and said “disclosure of such file will interfere with our pending and active investigation into this matter.”
“… Our investigation is compromised if witnesses who have yet to meet with our office are able to review the materials in our possession, including but not limited to the statements of other witnesses, accused and complainants …,” Szczepanski wrote.
The same day, Ganiyu explained COPA’s response to city prosecutor Natalia Delgado and Police General Counsel Dana O’Malley. Ganiyu asked how the department should proceed.
O’Malley then sent an email request to discuss the matter with Delgado.
Finally, on Nov. 19, 2019, Delgado informed the mayor’s press team the FOIA request would be denied, citing the ongoing COPA investigation.
The Mayor’s Office did not object to the denial of Young’s request in the emails released Wednesday.
Eaddy defended denying the release of the video.
“The public release of body-worn-camera evidence or related materials on the day this investigation commenced and/or thereafter, without full knowledge and understanding of the incident, would have been premature, not prudent and inconsistent with investigative best practices,” he said. “COPA’s commitment to transparency is unwavering as is our commitment to protecting the integrity of our investigations.”
Roberts told aldermen at a City Council hearing last week COPA investigators recently interviewed Young — after being rebuffed by Young’s attorney on seven previous occasions — and received permission to interview the officers involved in the raid.
“Upon conclusion of the investigation, and in accordance with ordinance, COPA’s findings and recommendations will be forwarded to the Chicago Police Department,” Eaddy said.
“COPA’s Summary Report of Investigation (SRI) will be shared with Ms. Young and in furtherance of our commitment to transparency, the SRI will also be publicly posted on COPA’s website following the department’s review and, if applicable, the serving of any resulting disciplinary charges against involved officers.”
Roberts has said the investigation will soon be concluded.
Despite the pending investigation, Police Supt. David Brown assigned 12 officers involved in the raid to desk duty after CBS2 aired footage of the raid earlier this month. Brown said the officers violated Young’s “human rights.”
During the contentious hearing last week, Roberts conceded COPA was alerted to the case in a “non-traditional way,” explaining the “normal process” of the Law Department or Police Department notifying COPA of a pending police misconduct lawsuit wasn’t followed.
Instead, Roberts said the agency’s attorneys learned of the incident when its News Affairs office asked if there was an open case.
“Our staff reviewed our database and found out we didn’t have a case,” she said. “They looked through the circuit court docket to see if a lawsuit had been filed. … We found the lawsuit and we immediately opened our investigation upon receiving that lawsuit and we pulled that lawsuit down from the county’s database.”
Ald. Matt Martin (47th) responded it was “incredibly problematic” that “neither an individual in [the Police Department] nor the Law Department notified you of the existence of this case in a timely fashion.”
Amid the fallout from CBS2’s report, Brown has rolled out additional search warrant reforms and Lightfoot has promised to increase transparency, including in how the city responds to Freedom of Information Act requests — promises she first made when campaigning for mayor.
Lightfoot has said she’s asked for a “top-to-bottom” review of why Young’s request was denied and will change city policies to ensure a victim who reaches out for police body cam video doesn’t have to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
“We will do better, and we will win back the trust that we have lost this week,” Lightfoot said on the day she admitted she learned of the incident over a year earlier than she previously claimed.
Lightfoot has tapped former federal judge Ann Claire Williams and her law firm, Jones Day, to investigate the incident.
Members of City Council have called on Inspector General Joe Ferguson to conduct a separate investigation.
Wednesday’s release of the emails and documents came on the same day Lightfoot and Young were meant to meet at Young’s church, but the meeting was called off by Young’s attorney. Late Thursday, Young and Lightfoot confirmed in a joint statement they met privately earlier in the day to discuss the wrongful raid on Young’s home.
The city created a portal to read the emails and other documents after widespread criticism about its handling of the incident. Lightfoot’s office billed it as part of the city’s commitment to being more transparent, but the emails were released by the city about 4 p.m. Wednesday, as many were already preparing for a long holiday weekend.
The city has made a number of missteps in how it’s handled the case, adding fuel to the controversy.
Officials realized they didn’t provide Young with all of the video of the raid, finding and turning over six more videos. And Lightfoot initially denied knowing about the raid until CBS2 broadcast video of it — but then said she was informed of the raid a year ago. The city also tried to get the court to punish CBS2 and Saulter, but it’s now withdrawn those actions.
Aldermen excoriated Lightfoot and the Police Department for how they handled the raid and its aftermath during an hours-long hearing last week.
Read the emails here:
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