BLOOMINGTON — The city of Bloomington has challenged a directive from the Illinois attorney general's office to release footage from a police officer's body camera to the owner of a private bus service.
The dispute between Lee Eutsey and the city involves a discussion he had with Bloomington police seven months ago outside a Bloomington bar over permits and signage for Magic Bus, a shuttle bus service owned by Eutsey.
In March, the city denied Eutsey's request for access to Officer Jesse Lanphear's body camera video recorded between 11 p.m. Feb. 9 and 1 a.m. Feb. 10.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Public Access Bureau disagreed with the city's position that Eutsey was not entitled to the video because the footage did not meet the criteria for disclosure under the state's Freedom of Information Act.
The city contends body camera video is exempt from the FOIA unless the recording is flagged by police when the images involve a pending complaint or internal investigation, discharge of a firearm, use of force, an arrest or an incident involving a death or great bodily harm. The footage involving Eutsey was not flagged.
The disagreement between the city and Madigan's office turns on a second provision of the body cameras law that allows a citizen or officer depicted in the video access to the footage, even if not flagged.
The city argues that such access applies only to flagged recordings, an interpretation that could severely limit the release of body camera video.
In an Aug. 16 nonbinding ruling, Madigan's office asked the city to release the video with redactions of people not directly involved in the encounter.
Eutsey said he needs the video to settle a dispute with the city over his decision to provide free rides to college students from downtown Bloomington bars for several months when his license to transport was not in effect. According to Eutsey, the video contains a comment from the officer that Eutsey was not in violation of any city licensure rules.
"I am sickened that our own local government will go to these extreme lengths to hide this video," said Eutsey, who has been critical of the city's downtown parking plan for shuttle buses. The effort to withhold the video is contrary to Mayor Tari Renner's pledge for greater transparency in local government, he said.
Springfield lawyer Gabriel H. Neibergall, whose firm provides legal services to the city, said the city will ask Madigan's office to reconsider the nonbinding opinion.
"This has implications statewide," Neibergall said of the ruling on the first challenge to release of video since Bloomington police started a pilot program for body video cameras several months ago.
Neibergall agreed the city's narrow interpretation could limit the release of police video but argued that such an interpretation is necessary to keep police departments from the time-consuming task of handling FOIA requests from people who do not have a pending case or complaint about their interaction with an officer.
The broader interpretation would also put nonflagged video outside the department's possession after its mandatory destruction 90 days by the city following an incident, said the city's counsel.
The nonbinding nature of the attorney general's opinion means fewer options for the city and Eutsey if an agreement is not reached. A refusal by Madigan's office to reconsider the ruling puts the city in the position of either releasing or keeping the video without any consequence unless Eutsey decides to take the matter to court.
Eutsey or the city could ask the state to issue a nonbinding decision that would be applicable to all police departments and give the city the option to seek a review in court.