Illinois agency says it is not tracking on the prisoner death

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Illinois prison officials say that they are not able to provide information about the death of a detainee which led to the suspension of several employees, because the department does not maintain a copy of the records before sending them to the federal investigators.

The former federal prosecutors and investigators were surprised by the Illinois Department of Corrections’ response to an open records request by The Associated Press. Officials have provided no information about the May 17 incident at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling, 250 miles (400 kilometers southwest of Chicago, except that a wounded prisoner was airlifted to a regional hospital and later died.

IDOC said: “several” members of staff are on leave and confirmed the FBI investigation, but refused to comment further. So did Brad Ware, spokesman for the FBI in Boston.

“The run of everything without keeping a copy? That sounds a little weird,” said Thomas Raftery III of Linwood, New Jersey, a global business security consultant who spent 22 years as an FBI agent. “I’ve never heard of that. They may not be for you, but why not just come out and say that?”

Removal of all records: the public has no information about how the prisons are run under Gov. Bruce Rauner, how the incident occurred or the IDOC’s response. Experts say it could leave the country more susceptible to the loss of a civil lawsuit over the matter because the juries are instructed to look unfavorably on a defendant who disposed of the relevant information.

“What a jury is told the defendant, had the defendant got rid of them, and from that, to a negative consequence,” said Philip Turner, a Chicago lawyer and former federal prosecutor. “Hearing that, you’re dead in the water.”

When the AP first requested documents about the incident on the department refused disclosure under the exceptions to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act dealing with the protection of the ongoing criminal investigations and prisoner privacy. When the AP spoke to at the end of July, IDOC told the Illinois Attorney General’s public access counselor, who gave everything to the FBI.

“I find it very unbelievable,” Turner said. “Maybe they’re not on paper, but who uses paper these days?”

Last week there was a new comment. Instead of commenting on the AP asked why it turned on all the original data from the FBI, responded with a letter to the public access counselor saying that it had found 100 additional documents, some previously delivered to the FBI, and all exempt from disclosure.

Or documents are surrendered, voluntarily or under subpoena, Raftery said that the FBI generally allows an agency to make copies. An exception might be if the suspicion that a cover-up by higher officials, ” he said. And copying can be prohibited in the first instance, when records are seized by a search warrant, for example, if the FBI takes a computer server. But such scenarios are rare.

“The FBI is aware of the fact that these guys have the run of a prison, Raftery said. “They can’t do without records.”

IDOC’s claim that it cannot disclose what it does not have is also against Illinois law. In 2017, the 2nd District Court of appeal ruled in favor of the Chicago Tribune at the College of DuPage argued he could not hand over a summons, because it no longer had. The court has ruled that disclosure is limited to the public records that the public body present possession or under the control of … that obligation continues, even if the data have been transferred.”


Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.


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