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Ill. AG orders release of Winnebago Co. chase video

Raoul’s office issued a binding legal opinion.
(WIFR)
Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 2:25 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana has been ordered by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to make public video footage and other material from a 2016 police chase and crash that killed Rockford resident Joy Lambert.

For more than four years, the Rockford Register Star sought to obtain records that could shed light on the circumstances leading to Lambert’s death.

Although the attorney general’s public access office had previously ruled that the materials ought to be made public under the Freedom of Information Act, the sheriff’s office has twice refused.

After the second refusal in March, Raoul’s office this week issued a binding legal opinion, according to the Rockford Register Star.

“It is the opinion of the attorney general that the sheriff’s office’s response to Mr. (Jeff) Kolkey’ s Freedom of Information Act request violated the requirements of FOIA,” the opinion states. “Accordingly, the sheriff’s office is directed to take immediate and appropriate action to comply with this opinion by disclosing to Mr. Kolkey copies of the responsive records.”

The attorney general’s ruling is considered the final administrative decision on the Register Star’s requests under public records laws. The sheriff has 35 days to either provide the materials or file an appeal in court. Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Rick Ciganek said the department is reviewing the opinion, according to the Rockford Register Star.

The attorney general’s ruling is considered the final administrative decision on the Register Star’s requests under public records laws. The sheriff has 35 days to either provide the materials or file an appeal in court.

Lambert, 55, was on her way to work at BMO Harris Bank on a Monday morning in February 2016 when a woman fleeing police at high speeds ran a red light at the intersection of Springfield Avenue and Cunningham Road, according to the Rockford Register Star.

The ensuing crash destroyed Lambert’s Buick and killed the wife, mother and active member of the West Side Church of God in Christ.

Moments before the crash, Caruana said, Deputy Christopher Moski had discontinued a more than 2.5-mile pursuit of a rented Ford driven by Laronda Graham of Rockford. The chase, during the morning commute, reached speeds of at least 91 mph on city streets, according to the Rockford Register Star.

Moski originally had attempted to stop Graham for speeding.

Graham pleaded guilty in May 2018 and was sentenced to five years in prison for reckless homicide and one year for aggravated fleeing police, according to the Rockford Register Star.

Lambert’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit naming Winnebago County, Moski and Graham as defendants.

The fatal crash came less than six months after Caruana eased restrictions that had previously limited police pursuits. Caruana cited a large increase in the number of drivers fleeing traffic stops as the reason for the change, according to the Rockford Register Star.

Afterward, the number of Winnebago County sheriff’s police pursuits rose 220%, from 75 in 2015 to 240 in 2017. The number of pursuits since then has fallen and last year there were 135 Winnebago County sheriff’s police chases.

Caruana earlier this year expressed sorrow over Lambert’s death, but argued the change in policy was for the greater good. Caruana said the previous policy had encouraged a culture that permitted fleeing police, according to the Rockford Register Star.

Lambert’s family has said nothing could justify the police pursuit that preceded the fatal crash.

Copyright 2020 WIFR. All rights reserved.

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