Federal lawsuit alleges Antioch unlawfully recorded nonemergency calls

A federal lawsuit seeking class-action status has been filed against Antioch village and police officials, alleging incoming and outgoing calls on nonemergency phone lines were unlawfully recorded to gather evidence and other improper uses.

The suit filed Monday claims police illegally recorded thousands of calls in what was alleged to be a "prolific, widespread and pervasive" invasion of privacy.

According to the suit, a surveillance and recording system utilizing computer software formerly used by emergency dispatchers begin operating in about 2012.

The suit says former Chief Steve Huffman, who was hired in 2015, told Village Attorney Robert Long the system needed to be reported to the Lake County state's attorney's office because it violated callers' rights.

However, according to the suit, Long told Huffman it didn't need to be reported and no action was taken. The recording system first was disclosed publicly in connection with Huffman's departure from the village last summer, according to the law firm that brought the case.

Village officials "permitted, tolerated and condoned" the illegal activity and kept the surveillance and recording system secret, the suit alleges.

The plaintiff is Scott Babnik, a Wisconsin resident whose wife worked at the police department.

According to the suit, Babnik regularly made and received personal calls on the department's nonemergency phone lines but did not know they were being recorded or consent to it.

Long, Mayor Larry Hanson, Village Administrator James Keim, Police Chief Geoff Guttschow, Cmdr. Rick Moritz and Tom Nowotarski, head of police investigations, are named as defendants.

Guttschow on Monday said village officials are aware of the filing but are unable to comment on current or pending litigation.

According to the suit, Moritz and Nowotarski obtained the computer system and used it to "gather evidence on certain people and their conversations" which otherwise would have required a warrant. The federal complaint does not cite specific instances.

The suit alleges the actions were intentional and caused Babnik anguish, humiliation and other damages. It also claims violations of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act and invasion of privacy.

The suit seeks the court to certify the case as a class action and seeks and unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a court to order directing the village to show the system is not operational and will not be made operational in the future.

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