CHICAGO (AP) — A former federal prosecutor hired by the city of Chicago to review how City Hall attorneys handle excessive-force lawsuits against police found no evidence that they regularly hide or obstruct access to evidence, a report unveiled Thursday said.
Critics have alleged for years that taxpayer-funded city attorneys frequently seek to subvert the evidence-gathering process in civil cases in bids to keep damage payouts down or to deflect bad publicity from the mayor. But the 70-page report released after a six-month review of the city law department’s civil rights division by former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb appears to reject such assertions.
“We did not find evidence establishing a culture, practice, or approach in the Division of intentionally concealing evidence or engaging in intentional misconduct relating to discovery practices or other obligations,” it says.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed to the review after U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang in January rebuked city attorney Jordan Marsh for intentionally hiding evidence in a lawsuit that stemmed from the fatal shooting of Darius Pinex, who was black. Marsh then resigned.
Webb’s team reviewed dozens of cases and determined that the Pinex case is the sole instance of intentional misconduct by a city lawyer over the last five years, the report says.
Chang in January said Marsh hid evidence from the 2015 civil trial that would have showed police lied about events that led officers to shoot and kill Pinex. Emanuel portrayed it as an isolated instance of unscrupulous lawyering. The report from Webb, now one of Chicago’s most prominent defense lawyers, seems to support that.
Among the Webb report’s recommendations are that city lawyers be better trained about how to secure evidence and that city lawyers obtain the evidence themselves directly from the police department rather than counting on officers to ferret out the evidence and deliver it to litigating city lawyers.
The report was based on examinations of 75 civil cases and interviews with more than 90 individuals, including nearly on the staff at the city rights division and plaintiffs’ attorneys who have filed police-abuse lawsuits.
Municipal lawyers nationwide represent city employees in noncriminal matters and rarely attract public attention because they operate far behind elected leaders. But critics have said they are often a weak link in systems designed to expose police misdeeds and hold officers accountable.
The actions of city attorneys can be especially critical if police oversight boards and prosecutors choose not to fire officers or charge them criminally. That leaves a lawsuit as the only avenue for surviving relatives to seek justice.
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