Sheriff Loses Freedom of Information Appeal about SWAT Training for Eric Woods

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Department has lost an April 29, 2010, appeal filed by McHenry County Blog to obtain SWAT training records for Deputy Eric Woods.

Diagram from the internal investigation showing where Sheriff's deputies were standing at the shooting range during March 15, 2010, when Eric Woods was injured.

Under the decision, received yesterday from Assistant Public Access Counselor Matthew C. Rogina, the Sheriff’s Office must provide “the dates and times that Deputy Woods was present at SWAT training sessions.”

The opinion continues,

“The Sheriff has not demonstrated a basis as to how the disclosure of the previously scheduled SWAT team practices of Deputy Woods could pose a security risk.”

Woods is the deputy that was injured at the shooting range. The handling of that incident was an issue raised by Democrat Mike Mahon in the his unsuccessful fall campaign against Keith Nygren. Nygren had characterized the wounds as “road rash.”

The Sheriff’s Department claimed exemption from revealing the scheduling information contending its release would

  • “endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel or any other person,”
  • reveal “vulnerability assessments, security measures, and response policies or plans that are designed to identify, prevent or respond to potential attacks upon a community’ s population or systems, facilities, or installations, the destruction or contamination of which would constitute a clear and present danger to the health or safety of the community…”

The text of the full decision follows.  You can see the original here.

OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
STATE OF ILLINOIS
Lisa Madigan
ATTORNEY GENERAL

February 14, 2011

Ms. Jan Weech
Freedom of Information Act Officer
McHenry County Sheriff’s Office
[email protected] il.us

Mr. Cal Skinner
[email protected]

RE: FOIA Request’ for Review’ 2010 PAC-7125.

Dear Ms. Weech and Mr. Skinner:

We have received a request for Review Lot Act (FOIA) request submitted to the McHenry County Sheriff by Mr. Skinner and the responsive documents submitted to the Office of Public Counselor by the Sheriff.

In Mr. Skinner’ s April 29, 2010, Request for Review, he indicates that on April 8 he submitted a FOIA request to the Sheriff seeking a copy of assignment-sheets for his shift, which show Eric Woods’ previous SWAT Team practices.

On April 13, 2010, the Sheriff denied Mr. Skinner’ s request for information. In its denial letter, the Sheriff asserted that the records are exempt from disclosure pursuant to the following exemptions:

  1. Section 7( 1)( d)( vi) of FOIA (5 ILCS 140/ 7( 1)( d)( vi)) which exempts from inspection and copying information that would “endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel or any other person,” and
  2. Section 7( 1)( v) of FOIA ( 5 ILCS 140/ 7( 1)( v)) which exempts from inspection and copying “vulnerability assessments, security measures, and response policies or plans that are designed to identify, prevent or respond to potential attacks upon a community’ s population or systems, facilities, or installations, the destruction or contamination of which would constitute a clear and present danger to the health or safety of the community, but only to the extent that disclosure could reasonably be expected to jeopardize the effectiveness of the measures or the safety of the personnel who implement them or the public. Information exempt under this item may include such things as details pertaining to the mobilization or deployment of personnel or equipment, to the operation of communication systems or protocols, or to tactical operations.”

This Office initiated further review of this matter on May 10, 2010 and requested that the Sheriff provide us with a written explanation as to why Section 7( 1)( v) and Section 7( 1)( d)( vi) exempts the documents from disclosure. The Sheriff submitted its response on May 17, 2010 together with an affidavit from Lt. John Miller that clarified that the ” only documents that the McHenry County Sheriff’ s Department maintains regarding SWAT Team practices are the shift schedules.” The Sheriff provided us a representative sample of those schedules on February 8, 2011.

Determinations

Section 3( a) of FOIA ( 5 ILCS 140/ 3( a)) provides that “[ e] ach public body shall make available to any person for inspection or copying all public records, except as otherwise provided in Section 7 of this Act.” Under Section 1. 2 of FOIA ( 5 ILCS 140/ 1. 2), “[ a] ll records in the custody of a public body are presumed to be open to inspection and copying.” This section further states that “[ a] ny public body that asserts that a record is exempt from disclosure has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it is exempt
In its May 17, 2010 letter, the Sheriff states the following with regard to the disclosure of the shift schedules:

The only records/ documents that we maintain that show the dates of Deputy Wood’ s SWAT Team practices are our monthly department shift assignment schedules ( see the attached affidavit). The shift schedules are for internal department use and are not shared with the general public. These schedules show the pattern which we assign our squads to specific areas, how we over lap our assignments, and the times of day in which we rotate our squads in and out of our patrol areas, showing when and where a Deputy may possibly be without the close back up assistance of another squad. If the general public were aware of these unique technique details we feel that it would not only put a Deputy at risk but also the public. Crimes could be planned around disclosure of this specific information.

The Sheriff further notes:

The release of these schedules will cause this Department to immediately change all of our schedules and create a different pattern unique from the one presently used.

Although Mr. Skinner’ s request is somewhat ambiguous, we interpret it as a request for the dates and times that Deputy Woods was present at SWAT training sessions. According to the Sheriff, this information is contained only in shift schedules of the type we have examined, which includes shift information and assignments for a number of deputies. Because Mr. Skinner seeks a very narrow set of records regarding only Deputy Woods, it is the finding of this Office that disclosure of this specific information would not fall within the scope of Section 7( 1)( d)( vi) and Section 7( 1)( d)( v). The Sheriff has not demonstrated a basis as to how the disclosure of the previously scheduled SWAT team practices of Deputy Woods could pose a security risk. However, to the extent that the shift schedules contain information regarding any other assignments for Deputy Woods, and any information regarding the schedules or assignments of any deputies other than Deputy Woods, that information may be redacted from the schedules.

Accordingly, we find that the Sheriff has not met its burden pursuant to Section 7( 1)( d)( vi) or Section 7( 1)( v) and must disclose the shift schedules to Mr. Skinner, subject to the redactions noted above.

Should you have any questions, please contact me at ( 312) 814- 5383. This correspondence shall serve to close this file.

Sincerely,

Matthew C. Rogina
Assistant Public Access Counselor

7125 F RFR pb a improper county
500


Comments

Sheriff Loses Freedom of Information Appeal about SWAT Training for Eric Woods — 11 Comments

  1. Sort of interesting Cal. What do you hope to learn about the incident from shift assignment records? And what wrong-doing is to be learned? That accidents happen?

  2. J, I mean AZ – As long as the Frat Boy mentality exits among some of these “boys” their is a ticking time bomb of problems. That is why there are so many lawsuits.
    As you well know.

  3. No, AZ Supporter, accidents don’t “happen”. Woods’ injury at the range that day wasn’t an “accident.” OK, it was accidental. Nobody intentionally shot on a metal target, expecting his round to ricochet and strike Woods. It was an accident “waiting to happen”, due to carelessness and failures in training and supervision.

    Look at the stupidity and wasteful expense in fighting Cal’s request. It’s mismanagement at the extreme and an effort to stone-wall. Sure would be interesting to know how high up the decision was made to deny information. Above Lt. Miller, who was on the scene and therefore should not have participated in the denial? Was Undersheriff Zinke involved in the denial? How about Nygren?

    There is a whole, new FOIA request, Cal – all the documentation at MCSD surrounding the denial.

  4. Sorry guys-this is only so-much crap and a waste of everybody’s time and effort. Find something worth your extream efforts at searching out unfounded ideas and thoughts of “violations” of what is, in your own minds, offenses. Considering how much you both complain about wasting money and time, how much time and money do you think is wasted in records while they answer your mindless drivel FOIAs?

  5. FOYI’s are one way to keep things hones. J, you would like to stop them so the truth does not come out. Very beneficial to some.

  6. FOIA’s are usually the tools of people who want to know something that MAY or MAY NOT exist, except in their own minds. It’s very hard to FOIA information that does not exist; and when you “shotgun” FOIAs, you lessen their signfigance (sp) and your credability. BTW, who is “J”, and how do you know him/her?

  7. FOIA’s have been very revealing in many cases. Truth and mis mangagement come to light. Why do you have such a problem with that???

  8. I don’t have a problems with FOIAs. I have a large problem with abuse of FOIA requests when there is no known basis for the request except a quess.

  9. Ohhhhhhhhh-now I’m a story on Guss’s blog! How cool is that? Apparently his blog is down or I’m being blocked because it’s impossible to post a comment to his drivel.

    If everyone thinks that the movements used that day were the first time for that attack position, think again. One tries to prepare for anything that COULD happen; but when something like this does happen, humans learn and adjust, and attempt to make sure it does not happen again.

    To assume that the Sheriff’s officers wildly fire live rounds willy-nilly with no thought to where they are going is simply juvenile thinking.

    Even Deputy Woods knows that.

    Of course, whatever he said about the incident will be seen as forced by his superiors because it does not comply with Guss’s thinking.

  10. Juvenile thinking is just what gets those guys into so much trouble. Frat boys.

  11. Knowing McHenry County Sheriff’s Department, they were probably intoxicated at the time of the injury.

    I have witnessed deputies drive their patrol cars to bars (and park in a different parking lot), then drive home after about six beers and two shots.

    Happened all the time…with many deputies.

    It made me sick.

    The unprofessionalism of this agency is overwhelming.

    I left for a real police department.

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