The City of Waukegan is fighting an order handed down by the Attorney General to release body cam footage after a 31-year-old man died in police custody. The request was made by a private citizen under the Freedom of Information Act. The Attorney General issued a statement saying that the city’s refusal to disclose the footage violated the requirements of the FOIA. The city is arguing that it does not have to release the video because the investigation is ongoing. In other words, they are saying that since the mysterious death is still under investigation, they should be absolved from having to release potentially damning footage related to the incident. The death occurred in the summer of 2018.
The body cam footage was taken in June of 2018 after 31-year-old Avion Cotton was taken into custody after he fled on foot in an apparent attempt to escape police. Waukegan police said in a statement that Cotton had eaten an unknown white substance during the chase and became physically distressed while in custody.
Police say that they drove into a neighborhood to serve an active arrest warrant when they found a man approaching a house who himself had an active warrant out for his arrest. According to law enforcement, they had a separate arrest warrant for Cotton for driving on a revoked license. Police say that as they approached Cotton, he fled on foot. They eventually caught up with him, but not before Cotton ingested a white “rock-like” substance that they assume was crack. The autopsy confirmed that Cotton had ingested several baggies of the substance, but there were no signs of physical trauma. In other words, all the known data certainly appears to indicate that the incident happened precisely how the police said it did.
While civil liability is a major consideration for the city and they certainly want to protect their officers, if the incident occurred the way they say it occurred, neither would be under threat.
The FOIA request was filed by a local activist named Chris “Brotha” Blanks who lives in Waukegan. He is the founder of The Black Abolition Movement for the Mind and occasionally contributes opinion pieces to Lake County News-Sun. Blanks was at a Waukegan council meeting when he heard from members of Cotton’s family. It was then that he filed the FOIA request. Erica Cotton, Avion’s aunt, requested footage of the body cam to gain closure over the incident. Avion’s grandmother also spoke at the council meeting saying that she just wanted to know what happened.
After being denied, Blanks filed a FOIA request and the Attorney General granted that request. The city is now attempting to block the order citing an ongoing investigation.
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