Newspaper wins appeal for Welch 2002 police report
Illinois Attorney General ruling on release of police report
Updated: March 29, 2012 3:39PM
Hillside Police Department must turn over a 2002 police report describing the arrest of Emanuel “Chris” Welch for domestic battery, the Illinois attorney general ordered Friday.
Forest Leaves has been seeking the report since January, but Hillside police refused a Freedom of Information Act request, saying there was no arrest and that the matter was private.
The newspaper appealed to the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor’s office, and on Friday Attorney General Lisa Madigan ordered Hillside to turn over a narrative account of the arrest.
Welch, who is running for state representative in the 7th District, was arrested on Jan. 2, 2002, but charges were never filed, according to the attorney general.
Hillside police sent the police report to the newspaper Monday evening.
Welch was a political neophyte in late 2001. He had just been elected to Proviso High School District 209 School Board, where two years later he would be named president.
He also had just been appointed by Hillside Mayor Joe Tamburino as chairman of the Hillside Human Relations Commission.
According to the police report, Welch and his former girlfriend had an argument at his Hillside home on Jan. 2, 2002. She alleged that the argument became physical and called police. Welch was taken into custody but no charges were filed and he was released.
A report was made, but it was not covered in the local media.
During a phone-in town hall meeting in January 2012, Welch acknowledged that an incident occurred and it was a regrettable event in his past.
“I was in a relationship that wasn’t healthy,” he told voters.
When the Forest Leaves requested a copy of the 2002 police report earlier this year, Hillside Police Department FOIA officer Darlene Pugh turned it down, saying that releasing the report would unnecessarily invade the privacy of the woman and Welch.
“I denied the request due to personal information that I believe is an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and does not bear on the public duties of the individual…” Pugh explained in a Feb. 14 letter to the attorney general’s office.
“This incident was closed in 2002, with no arrests and no complaints signed,” Pugh wrote. She concluded by saying, “The fact that this individual is a political figure has no bearing in my decision for denying this request.”
Forest Leaves appealed to the attorney general’s office, which mediates disputes over the Freedom of Information Act.
In its appeal Forest Leaves said the identity of the victim was not important and could be removed from the report. The sole purpose of obtaining the report was because it involved a public official seeking higher office.
“Mr. Welch has placed himself in the public eye. We believe that Welch’s expectation of privacy is superseded by his status as public official and public figure — both at the time of the incident and today — and that the public’s right to know should take precedence,” the Forest Leaves wrote.
On March 16, the Illinois Attorney General issued a “binding opinion” ruling that Welch had “as a matter of law” been arrested Jan. 2, 2002.
The ruling further found that Hillside police had violated the FOIA law by denying Forest Leaves’ request for the police incident report documenting Welch’s arrest.
“The (Hillside Police) Department did not provide a detailed factual basis or any explanation for its assertion,” the attorney general ruled.
“The (Hillside Police) department stated in its response that no one was arrested in connection with the incident documented in the records,” the ruling said. “Based upon this office’s review of the records, however, we conclude that Mr. Welch was, as a matter of law, arrested in connection with this incident.”
“Furthermore, the (Hillside Police) Department failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that any other information in the incident report is exempt from disclosure pursuant to (FOIA law).”
The attorney general directed the Hillside Police Department to “take immediate and appropriate action to comply with this opinion by furnishing (Forest Leaves) with copies of those records, subject only to appropriate redactions…”
Tamburino did not return phone calls for comment.
On Sunday, Welch campaign chairman Linda Tyson responded by email to a request for comment sent to both her and Welch.
“We do not believe it is a good idea to be presumptuous or to make a comment on a narrative report that we have not had the opportunity to thoroughly review,” Tyson wrote.
The Attorney General’s binding opinion is posted on its website at http://foia.ilattorneygeneral.net/2012binding.aspx.