Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bentley case - now more than Missing Person?

Is the Beth Bentley missing person case really more than a Missing Person case?

Recently I filed a FOIA request to inspect the files at the Woodstock Police Department. After all, if it's "just" a missing person case (and not a criminal case) and since over a year has passed, it seems logical and reasonable to me that the police files ought to be open to public inspection.

The City, on behalf of the police department, denied my request, claiming that making the records available would interfere with pending or contemplated law enforcement proceedings.

Upon that denial I filed a Request for Review with the Public Access Counselor (PAC) at the Office of the Illinois Attorney General.

The result? The PAC upheld the City's denial.

The exemption claimed by the City of Woodstock (for the Woodstock Police Department) is that release of this information would "interfere with pending or actually and reasonably contemplated law enforcement enforcement proceedings conducted by any law enforcement or correctional agency that is the recipient of this request."

OK, so what are "law enforcement proceedings"? They are related to crimes.

The City of Woodstock states that it "...reasonably contemplates law enforcement proceedings arising from this matter." The City further stated that "its investigation of the matter is ongoing, and disclosure of the requested information would hamper the investigation and any resultant law enforcement proceedings."

So it seems to me that this is not "merely" a missing-person case.

The Public Access Counselor's opinion states, in part, "The City's contemplation of law enforcement proceedings is reasonable under the circumstances, where a person has been missing for more than 14 months, and the disappearance is unexplained. We also agree with the City that disclosure of the information would impair the investigation and any contemplated law enforcement proceedings. If a crime has been committed, disclosure could alert the perpetrator about the status of the investigation and whether the authorities are closing in. Furthermore, withholding details from the public about a crime can enable law enforcement to determine whether potential witnesses are telling the truth or whether they have valid information."

You be the judge. Is the Woodstock Police Department reasonably contemplating law enforcement proceedings? We all certainly hope so.

How soon will they announce persons-of-interest, suspects or an arrest (or arrests) in this case?

They should know that one key witness is now out-of-state. Will that person return for a September 2nd court date in a civil matter? Or will another state scoop up that person and deal with the issue on its home territory? It seems that the State's dealing with this civil case as an interstate case in Illinois hasn't worked very well, since the usual continuances month after month have resulted in no conclusion since late 2010.

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