City Refusal to Release Data About SWAT Team Deployments Since Closures of Mental Health Clinics Prompts Suit
CHICAGO – Independent journalist Sarah Lazare and community activist Debbie Southorn sued the Chicago Police Department today demanding release of records about Chicago SWAT deployments responding to mental health crises. A copy of the suit can be found here.
These records are of particular public importance because all of Chicago’s mental health clinics have been closed or privatized in recent years, and SWAT teams are used to respond to mental health incidents. As Lazare and Southorn note in an article published yesterday at The Intercept, “Since 2013, Chicago police have deployed SWAT teams at least 38 times to respond to mental health incidents and suicide attempts,” as revealed by records produced in response to a previous FOIA request.
“Due to the danger of hyper-militarized police responses to public health issues, the public has a right to this data,” said Lazare. Several of Chicago’s recent, most high-profile killings of civilians by police have been of people diagnosed with mental illnesses, including:
* Laquan McDonald, killed by police officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014. McDonald had been “diagnosed with complex mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder” noted the Chicago Tribune, and had been hospitalized in psychiatric hospitals three times by the time he was 13.
* Bettie Jones and her neighbor, NIU student Quintonio LeGrier, killed by police the day after Christmas in 2015. LeGrier had previously been involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
* Michelle Robey, shot and killed by police in February of this year outside of a CVS. Robey had been diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective disorder.
Lazare and Southorn filed their Freedom of Information Action requests seeking the SWAT “Hostage Barricade Terrorist” (HBT) log books for the years 2009 through 2012, seeking to analyze the rate of SWAT deployments over the past eight years. Of particular note has been the use of SWAT teams responding to mental health incidents in recent years.
In 2012, half of the city’s 12 clinics were closed and the remaining six were privatized. These SWAT logs from 2009-2012 will allow the public to determine whether SWAT responses to mental health crises have become more frequent since the clinic closures.
Sarah Lazare is the web editor at In These Times and a former staff writer at AlterNet. She also has been published in TruthOut, The Nation, Tom Dispatch, YES! Magazine and Al Jazeera America.
Debbie Southorn is a community activist and the Wage Peace program associate at the American Friends Service Committee. She is member of the People’s Response Team, and formerly organized with We Charge Genocide.
Lazare and Southorn are represented by Attorneys Matt Topic and Joshua Burday of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, the firm whose successful FOIA case forced the release of the dashcam video showing Laquan McDonald’s shooting death at the hands of Chicago police, prompting the firing of the police superintendent, the election defeat of the sitting State’s Attorney, and demands for thorough-going reform of the police department.