Threatening comments, unauthorized sharing sparks changes to Cook County’s YouTube court feeds

Timothy Evans | Wikipedia

Cook County’s chief judge has ordered some live streamed court proceedings to provide only audio after members of the public illegally posted excerpts of hearings online, a court spokesperson told CWBChicago Thursday night.

One gang-focused YouTube channel has posted dozens of court proceedings, including a May bond court appearance in which a man blurted out that he is working as a federal informant.

CWBChicago is not identifying the YouTube channel because it contains information that may endanger the lives of defendants.

Cook County began live-streaming Zoom feeds of some court sessions in April to provide open access during the COVID-19 pandemic. The streams are accompanied by verbal and written warnings that threaten contempt of court action against anyone who records the proceedings.

But that hasn’t stopped some people from doing precisely that.

“Bond [court] matters before the Cook County Circuit Court will be live-streamed using audio-only until further notice,” Chief Judge Timothy Evans said today. Courtrooms that handle violent felonies and warrant proceedings have also moved to the audio-only format.

“It is, unfortunately, part of human nature that some people will misuse public information to the detriment of others,” Evans said. “Minimizing that is a principal reason for…my order against recording proceedings, as well as the court’s inherent authority to close proceedings to the public.”

Evans’ office said  recent violations of the no-recording order “have potentially endangered the safety of parties, judges and court staff.”

In late May, a 25-year-old man unwittingly told the world via the court’s live stream that he is an informant who has bought over a dozen guns for federal law enforcement officers. The incident would have been lost to history had someone not been recording the hearing, which appeared on YouTube two weeks later and on WorldStarHipHop in July.

In the hearing excerpt, which has more than 41,000 views on YouTube, the man raises his hand in the middle of the court’s Zoom conference.

“Um, excuse me,” the man says. “I didn’t get a chance to talk to my [public defender] and tell him I’m a federal informant, and I bought 13 firear…”

“HOLD ON! HOLD ON!” interjects Judge John Lyke. 

“Sir! Sir!” a public defender says.

“Sir,” Lyke continues, “this is being live-streamed on YouTube. Don’t make comments like that.”

The rogue YouTube channel continues to post old bond court proceeds in which known gang members, often identified by their street names in accompanying text, appeared in court on new criminal charges. Many of the hearings selected by the channel include mentions of defendants who cooperated with police.

After some streams went audio-only last Friday, a circuit court source said Evans and other authorities were concerned about statements that people have posted in the YouTube channel’s comment sections. But Evans’ office did not directly answer questions about the comments when asked by CWBChicago.

More than 100 comments accompany the purported informant’s video on YouTube.

“LOOK AT WHAT WE HAVE HERE… HIS ENTIRE FAMILY AND HIM ARE AT RISK,” one reads.

“Dude better stay in the house for life for his own safety,” says another.

“The fact that they got mfs cases on youtube is dumb asg,” wrote yet another viewer. “I dislike this country.”

Other videos posted to the YouTube channel also draw eye-opening comments.

“Dam. They really just gave his address,” one bond court commenter wrote. “Wow WTF!”

Other videos include conversations about how to take advantage of the court’s affordable bail system: “You supposed to tell the people you broke,” one commenter advised, “otherwise they try to give you a high ass bond. #STREETSMART”

A spokesperson for Evans who has since moved to a new position told CWBChicago in June that the court had asked YouTube to remove the “informant” video, but the footage remains in place as of Thursday night.

WorldStarHipHop removed the same video soon after it originally appeared on their website this month, the Chicago Tribune reported on July 17.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com