Power Wars Blog by Charlie Savage

FBI releases internal dissents on 2013 Chicago hubcap-thief shooting incident

In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit I filed with The New York Times (represented by David McCraw, who is getting some attention today for his letter to Donald Trump’s lawyer rejecting a demand that the NYT retract an article about two women who say Trump touched them inappropriately), the Federal Bureau of Investigation has disclosed some previously redacted information about an internal dispute regarding a 2013 shooting incident that drew some local news media attention in Chicago at the time. I do not see a national-audience NYT article to write here, but am adding it to the library of internal FBI shooting reports that The Times and I have been using a series of FOIA lawsuits and requests to assemble for several years. This was a residual dispute about redactions within a large set of documents that we previously obtained through the litigation, and it resolves the case. I’ll just post the document here and briefly explain what it was about.

So, back in March 2013, three FBI agents in Chicago were going to lunch when they spotted a man, William Tapes, steal two hubcaps in the parking lot of a Jewel-Osco supermarket and get into the driver’s seat of a car, which had two other occupants. They intervened and he threw the car into gear and drove off, nearly hitting two of them. One of the agents jumped out of the way and fired ten bullets at the car, some as it was roaring past him and some after it had already passed him. Bullets grazed Tapes and another occupant of the car, who subsequently identified Tapes when interviewed at a hospital. Three days later, Tapes turned himself in. He was denied bail and charged with assault on a federal officer with a deadly weapon. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 84 months in prison. Tapes, 52, appealed, saying the sentence was unreasonable because it failed to take into account his failing eyesight; in 2014, a unanimous panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit — Judges Diane Wood, William Bauer, and David Hamilton — upheld the sentence.

That — along with a declination to prosecute the agent for violating Tapes’ civil rights by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — resolved the legal issues arising from the incident. However, there remained an administrative matter: the FBI’s Shooting Incident Review Group met, as it does nearly every time an agent fires his or her weapon outside a range, to determine whether the shooting complied with the bureau’s policy on the use of deadly force. It permits firing a weapon only to protect against an imminent threat to life. For decades, the FBI deemed every intentional shooting to be a “good shoot” that complied with its use of force policy, but — in what may or may not be a coincidence — since we began FOIA’ing out its documents showing that internal process, the SIRG has started occasionally finding some incidents to be “bad shoots.”

In this case, the majority SIRG voted to find that the shooting complied with the deadly force policy, but two members of the SIRG disagreed and said it was a bad shoot. The original document return, however, redacted several pages explaining what the dissenters’ reasoning was. The FBI has now agreed to disclose that to the public, along with the FBI’s rebuttal. In short, the first dissenter — the same Civil Rights Division attorney who had previously determined that the shooting did not violate the Constitution — argued that while the agent’s early shots were justified, it violated the deadly force policy when the agent continued firing at the car after it had passed by, as the danger had passed and those shots could only have been meant to prevent Tapes from fleeing, which was not a permissible motive under the use-of-force policy. The second dissenter, a DOJ Criminal Division trial attorney, agreed with the first dissenter but went further, arguing that none of the shots were justified because the agent was already out of danger (shooting from the side at the car) and because it improperly endangered the two innocent passengers in the car. But they were outvoted.

The less-redacted version of the document is here: