There has been a lot of attention in recent months on police responses that have turned deadly. Some high profile shootings resulted in both criminal and civil lawsuits, much to the surprise of many people who are not familiar with the legal system. When someone is killed when police are called in response to an incident, family members are often left trying to put the pieces of the traumatic incident back together while at the same time grieving the loss of their loved one. Further, when the dust settles the family is often left with more questions than answers and sometimes has to turn to litigation to not only find out what happened, but why it happened. Wrongful death actions can be used to help grieving families obtain justice from those who are sworn to uphold it, even when one of their own was the wrongdoer.
Internal investigation turns public
When a peace officer discharges his gun and someone is shot, an investigation takes place to determine whether the shooting was justified under the circumstances. The investigation will typically also review whether the officer acted in accordance with the local police department’s rules, regulations, policies and procedures. This review is usually done “in house” by an internal affairs division or other unit that is specially equipped to handle administrative investigations in an objective manner. It is standard policy across the country for these investigations to be strictly confidential and the results only to be shared with the local District Attorney’s office to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
This confidentiality is part of what makes the internal affairs process so reliable, in that witnesses are less afraid of retaliation by their colleagues and superiors for assisting in the investigation. That confidentiality is not absolute in all states, however. For example, under Illinois law, the outcome of internal affairs investigations may not be exempt from disclosure pursuant to the state’s Freedom of Information Act as they are “public records” under the law. Unless a specific exemption can be proven to apply to the information, the state cannot withhold the requested information.
Police shootings, especially those that result in the death of a person, are garnering more and more public attention due to some very high profile incidents in recent history. There is also a very high level of distrust between police officers and communities involved in such shootings, which causes there to be a higher than normal level of suspicion when an officer is cleared of wrongdoing after a “secret” investigation. In these instances, the families of victims are not left completely without recourse as they can seek justice in the civil courts by filing a lawsuit under state wrongful death statutes. So long as the case is filed within the required time period following a deadly shooting, a victim’s family can engage in discovery and find answers in a court of law. Further, if a jury finds that an officer is guilty under the law, the family can obtain damages. While no amount of money can replace what they lost, it can help them move forward and send a message to other law enforcement officers that their wrongful actions will not go unpunished.
If you or a loved one has questions about Illinois’ wrongful death laws, call the law office of Law Offices of Robert T. Edens, P.C in Waukegan today. Our skilled attorneys have years of practice obtaining justice for clients in Illinois courts. We can help answer your questions, or represent you, whichever is best for your situation.