Chicago may buy its way out of releasing police misconduct files by settling transparency lawsuit

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO — Decades of misconduct claims against Chicago police were set to become public, but on Monday a city council committee took action that may keep some secret.

It’s the latest twist in a long transparency fight fronted by Charles Green, an unlikely figure who didn’t intend to become the poster child for police transparency.

In 1985, Chicago Police arrested the then 16-year-old Green for a quadruple murder on the West Side. He stood accused of accepting $25 to knock on the door of a drug dealer’s apartment so two rivals could enter and kill the people inside.

After days of interrogation and coercion, Green said detectives told him to a sign confession and he could go home.

 “They did all kinds of things,” Green said. “It was like eventually they were like, ‘Okay, then this is what you need to do.  You say this. You sign this and we’ll let you go home,’” Green said. “But when I did, I didn’t come home until like 24 years later.”

Green left prison in 2009 after a judge reduced his sentence amid questions about police tactics and why eyewitness testimony that could’ve helped Green was not allowed to be heard at trial.

Green has spent the last decade fighting to clear his name.

In 2015, Green’s attorney sent an open records request to the Chicago Police Department and asked for “closed complaint register files,” or records, of officer misconduct.

The attorney asked for not just the files involving officers involved in Green’s case, but also the entire department going back to the late 1960s, including allegations during the years Mayor Lori Lightfoot led an agency that probes misconduct.

When police failed to respond in the amount of time outlined in Freedom of Information laws, a judge ordered the city to turn over every single police misconduct claim they had on file.

But on Monday, Chicago’s City Council delivered an unexpected curve that could cripple the transparency effort. The city is offering Green $500,000 to drop his Freedom of Information Act lawsuit; and he’s willing to accept.

“They are buying the ability to conceal the misconduct records,” Green’s attorney Jared Kosoglad said. “There was a court order to do and they are paying money to Charles Green so they don’t have to.”

Some members of the council’s Finance Committee hit the brakes on the settlement.  They agree it’s cheaper to give Green $500,000 than the estimated $8 million it would cost to go through, digitize, redact and publish decades of misconduct claims. 

Several aldermen including Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) said they object to the settlement because they think the information should be public.

“People can’t just take us at our word when we haven’t delivered after task forces, commissions, groups,” Vasquez said.

Alderman Matt Martin (47th Ward) agreed.

“We’re talking about many decades of rampant abuse,” he said. “Misconduct that occurred within CPD and the broader city government.”

The fight for access to the information continues, even if the settlement no longer means Green will be the figurehead of the fight.

“The fact the entire City of Chicago has forced Charles Green, who is a convicted quadruple murderer, to shoulder the entire burden of police transparency is an outrage in itself,” Kosoglad said. “Charles should not shoulder that burden. The city should do it itself.”

Finance committee chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) convinced enough aldermen to approve the settlement, in part because he vowed to author companion legislation that would set in stone a plan to release decades worth of misconduct claims.

 The full city council could vote on both items as soon as Wednesday.

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