Ill. police won't release report on chaplain's DUI arrest

By The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A state employee was stopped by a state trooper for drunken driving in a state-owned car. Now state police say the public has no right to see a report on the incident.

State police officials refused to release a copy of the arrest report or other documents the Associated Press requested. They said it would be an invasion of privacy for the employee, a prison system chaplain, who has resigned.

The Freedom of Information Act states that arrest information is public record, adding that information “that bears on the public duties of public employees” isn’t considered private.

And the State Records Act, amended in 1999 after negotiations among news media and police, explicitly requires police to allow inspection and copying of arrest reports.

On March 2, Lt. Scott Compton, a state police spokesman, confirmed that a car driven by the Rev. William M. Watts, was pulled over at 12:03 a.m. Dec. 30 on Interstate 57 in Kankakee after a witness reported the car was traveling below the minimum speed limit.

Watts, a Corrections Department chaplain who made $62,300, was put on paid administrative leave and resigned effective Feb. 15, agency spokesman Derek Schnapp said.

In its response to the AP request, state police said disclosing arrest documents “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” an exemption under the law.

Don Craven, lawyer for the Illinois Press Association, said that doesn’t make sense.

“Arrest reports on DUI cases, on traffic stops are uniformly released by police agencies across the state,” Craven said. “Police agencies want to be able to demonstrate they’re doing their job, the news media want to demonstrate what’s happening in their communities.”

Compton said the report contained personal information — which the law allows agencies to black out on public documents. And he said revealing details such as Watts’ blood-alcohol content could jeopardize a court case — an argument police did not make in denying the original request.

The Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s office couldn’t immediately report the status of the case.

Watts, 66, who was appointed chaplain in February 2004, did not return a message left at his Chicago home.

In 2005, the state police denied an AP request for documents related to the killing of a civilian employee by her estranged boyfriend. The boyfriend, Donald Dunkirk, who then committed suicide, was another employee banned from state police property because he had guns in his truck and had threatened his victim, Faith Blanks.

The state police said disclosure would invade the privacy of Dunkirk and Blanks, even though both were deceased. Testimony in an unrelated lawsuit later showed officials believed they didn’t do enough to take guns away from Dunkirk after he threatened Blanks.


Montana high court hears dispute over county official's arrest records
Commissioner contends DUI arrest information is protected by right to privacy; newspaper says public has right to know. 06.05.02