BGA Sues DuPage County Sheriff for Violating Freedom of Information Law
Robert Reed (312) 453-0631
Mary Frances O’Connor (312) 821-9026
CHICAGO—The teenage son of DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba is too young to be a deputy and isn’t officially employed by his father’s agency.
Yet, when he was still in high school, the sheriff’s department allowed then-17-year-old Patrick Zaruba to access a law enforcement database with information about every licensed driver in Illinois – as well as potentially sensitive intelligence on gangs, fugitives and stolen vehicles, among other things.
Those are the findings of a still-unfolding investigation by the Better Government Association and CBS2, which previously reported that the younger Zaruba was allowed to "ride along" with on-duty deputies, and participate in arrests and chases, even though he wasn’t a cop and, in fact, was a student at Wheaton Warrenville South High School. (He’s now 19 and a college student.)
The latest discovery – that Patrick Zaruba was given access to the Illinois Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, or LEADS – is raising questions not only about whether procedures were properly followed, but whether rules need to be revamped.
The BGA filed a formal request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, which compels government agencies to release public documents, for records showing which people and vehicles the younger Zaruba accessed via LEADS, but the sheriff’s office refused to turn over anything.
As a result, the BGA filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on Thursday (June 28, 2012) alleging the sheriff violated the state’s FOIA law. The suit was filed on the BGA’s behalf pro bono by the law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP.
"John Zaruba is acting like the sheriff’s office is his family business," said Andy Shaw, BGA President and CEO. "He needs to start acting like a public servant."
Shaw added: "The first step is coming clean about how his teenage son has been accessing a sensitive police database. Then we need to take a hard look at how a 17-year-old high school senior was certified to use the system in the first place."
Routinely enlisted by police officers through squad-car laptops, LEADS is only supposed to be used for law-enforcement purposes, according to the Illinois State Police. The agency oversees LEADS and granted Patrick Zaruba access after the sheriff’s office helped certify him.
The BGA proposes the following:
- Sheriff Zaruba immediately turn over the records requested by the BGA under FOIA.
- Sheriff Zaruba comply with demands from DuPage County Board members to halt his ride-along program amid concerns that by allowing non-police minors to participate, he is exposing DuPage taxpayers to huge financial liability.
- Sheriff Zaruba, as an elected official answerable to taxpayers, start answering questions, rather than dodging inquiries from the media and fellow elected officials about this situation.
- The DuPage County Board and/or State Police conduct an in-depth audit of the use and certification of LEADS by the sheriff’s office and see to it that any loopholes are closed.
"The sheriff has a lot of explaining to do," said Shaw.
The Better Government Association is a Chicago-based non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group that works for integrity, transparency and accountability in government by exposing corruption and inefficiency; identifying and advocating effective public policy; and engaging and mobilizing the electorate to achieve authentic and responsible reform.