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Family of slain cabbie accuses Cook County state's attorney's office of dodging FOIA request

Monday, April 01, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by Madeline Buckley•

Family of slain cabbie accuses Cook County state's attorney's office of dodging FOIA request

Family members of a cabdriver killed last year when another driver kicked him in the head during a road dispute are accusing the Cook County state’s attorney’s office of a “refusal to criminally charge” a suspect despite video evidence, allowing him to escape prosecution by leaving for China, according to a lawsuit filed last week.

Thara Tungekar, the wife of Anis Tungekar, filed the lawsuit in Cook County on Thursday in an effort to compel the office to produce records about the case after an unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act request.

Anis Tungekar, 64, died Sept. 4, 2018, two days after he was kicked in the head following an argument with another driver on the Near West Side, according to Chicago police.

The lawsuit contends that prosecutors delayed charging the suspect, even though police requested felony charges, allowing the driver to escape to a country where extradition was unlikely. It accuses the office of failing to produce public records about the charging decisions in the case.

The state’s attorney’s office declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Investigators took the driver, Lu Fangqi, into custody after the incident, but they released him without charges. Police later distributed surveillance video that showed Tungekar falling to the ground after the kick to the head.

The lawsuit contends that prosecutors delayed charging the suspect, even though police requested felony charges, allowing the driver to escape to a country where extradition was unlikely. It accuses the office of failing to produce public records about the charging decisions in the case.

The state’s attorney’s office declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Investigators took the driver, Lu Fangqi, into custody after the incident, but they released him without charges. Police later distributed surveillance video that showed Tungekar falling to the ground after the kick to the head.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx told WTTW in a Dec. 20 interview that her office was still seeking context about the video before making a decision about charges.

“We have a video that tells part of the story,” Foxx said. “Are there witnesses, are there others who can add context before or after what we saw? And that’s the process that we’re in now.”

In the meantime, though, Fangqi went to China, according to Chicago police.

After Fangqi left the country, Cook County Circuit Judge Edward Maloney signed an arrest warrant on Dec. 26 for Fangqi that charges him with murder. The United States doesn’t have an extradition treaty with China, according to the U.S. Department of State.

“I don’t believe we will ever see him face trial for what he did,” Anis Tungekar’s son, Omar, told the Tribune in December.

The lawsuit says family members were “outraged” that the state’s attorney’s office did not approve felony charges in the case, and filed a public records request on Jan. 7 asking for emails, felony review notes and other documents related to the case.

In response, the office released police documents the family had already received from the Chicago Police Department after another records request, according to the lawsuit.

Thara Tungekar’s attorney, Michael Gallagher, wrote back that the office had not provided the documents they had requested.

After receiving no response from the state’s attorney’s office, the family decided to sue for the records, arguing: “It is a fundamental obligation of government to operate openly and provide public records as expediently and efficiently as possible.”

mabuckley@chicagotribune.com



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