CRYSTAL LAKE – City officials won't release video footage of an off-duty incident at a local bar in March that resulted in the discipline of nine Crystal Lake firefighters, including two who were arrested on assault and battery charges.
The city reaffirmed its reasons for not releasing video footage in a recent letter to the Illinois Attorney General's Office, claiming it could interfere with witness cooperation, taint prospective jurors in criminal cases and violate the privacy rights of people captured in the video.
"It captures the victims as they were being victimized," the city's letter said. "It also captures the identities and actions of other individuals who offered information to the police department in its investigation and who are likely witnesses in the criminal prosecution."
An attorney for the city, Abigail C. Rogers, also said the video stands to reach a large number of potential jurors if published online and, consequently, would result in them pre-judging the conduct at the center of the criminal prosecution.
The response cited the Northwest Herald publishing some of the more than 800 pages of heavily redacted documents – the bulk of which were completely blanked out – in response to a Freedom of Information Act request related to the off-duty incident and subsequent investigations.
“With comments on news sites, posting a video invites a public ‘pre-trial’ and potential witness intimidation and harassment,” Rogers wrote in the letters. “Plainly, disclosure of the video footage is highly prejudicial to and will interfere with the pending prosecution.”
The Northwest Herald reported July 4 that two city firefighters were placed on administrative leave and facing criminal charges after being arrested May 11 in connection with an off-duty incident at Finn McCool’s, 72 N. Williams St., in March.
Documents the Northwest Herald obtained through a FOIA request revealed that witnesses told an investigator that off-duty firefighters had groped and harassed customers and bar employees, continued drinking after they were cut off and eventually were kicked out.
The city denied a follow-up request from the newspaper seeking the video surveillance footage of the incident that was repeatedly referenced in the redacted documents the city released.
“Disclosure of video footage is not the same as disclosure of a written document,” Rogers wrote. “The video catches the victims’ expressions and responses to the criminal conduct at issue in the prosecution. It captures the criminal defendants’ posture and expressions as well.”
Lastly, the response said the Crystal Lake Police Department lacked the ability to redact images from relevant portions of the video, which is several hours long.
“There is no way to disclose the video while balancing the rights of the prosecution, defense, victims, witnesses and innocent bystanders,” Rogers wrote.
The Northwest Herald requested July 11 all video footage pertaining to an investigation or disciplinary matters related to Adam J. Fowles, 41, of Cary and Timothy R. Kerley, 38, of Crystal Lake after learning video footage of a March 15 incident at Finn McCool’s was examined during an employment investigation.
The request was denied July 18 in its entirety, citing an incorrect portion of the statute, because the information would interfere with a pending or contemplated action by law enforcement, according to the response letter.
The city's response to the appeal also stated the video would “unavoidably disclose” the identity of a confidential source or identity of the person who filed complaints or provided information to law enforcement.
Because the two men were already charged after being arrested May 11 in connection with the incident, the Northwest Herald challenged the exemption July 19 for pending or contemplated action by law enforcement.
The exemption for protecting a confidential source also was challenged on the grounds that closed-circuit cameras operated in the bar do not award such protections, nor does it apply to any and all bar patrons who filmed the altercation on a camera phone.
The attorney general's office will make a determination on whether the video should be released. There is no timetable for when the office would make a decision.
Both men are due back in court Sept. 28.