Probe sought in 'troubling' arrest in Champaign
CHAMPAIGN — Champaign City Manager Steve Carter and Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz have asked the Illinois State Police to review a video of the June 5 arrest of a Champaign man that contains what Carter has called "troubling" behavior by the arresting Champaign police officer.
The officer, whose name was not released, has been taken off patrol and reassigned to duties within the station, Carter said in a news release issued Saturday night.
Veteran Champaign defense attorney Mark Lipton represents the 20- year-old man who was charged with fel- ony resisting a peace officer — charges Rietz dismissed last week after seeing the squad-car video of the arrest.
Rietz said Lipton brought it to her attention earlier this month. He obtained it in the course of preparing his client's defense. Rietz said police don't automatically give her those videos with their reports unless prosecutors ask for them.
Lipton said he asked for it after seeing reference to it in the police report about the June 5 incident. His client, he said, is not seeking the limelight over what happened to him.
"My client, I believe, wants to continue school, get on with his life and put this behind him. He attends a community college," said Lipton, who described in detail for The News-Gazette what he saw on the video.
Lipton said it depicts activity that started in Campustown around Sixth and Green streets.
"There's a fair number of people on the street, not packed. You can see two uniformed foot-patrol officers who appear to be following at some modest distance behind youths who are walking west (on Green). There's a little bit of interaction between the police and one or more of these people. One of them is my client."
Lipton said that after talking to the youths, the officers eventually move away, "giving the impression they want these young people to keep moving away west down Green."
As the uniformed officers walk out of view, the car moves slowly, he said.
At the intersection of Green and Fourth streets, the young people can be seen crossing Fourth Street against the light. Lipton said he saw no traffic on Fourth. The officer then stopped his squad car in the intersection.
"The officer yells, 'Stop. Come back here,' and ultimately gets out of his car, catches up to my client, grabs him by the arm, and starts walking him back to the squad," Lipton said. "My client is upset and is being loud but is not fighting or trying to run away."
"He (the officer) walks him back to the front of the squad," he said. "My client is yelling and within two to three seconds of them getting to the front of the squad car, they stop. My guy is standing there yelling and, boom — pepper spray in the face.
"When I saw that part I was just honestly somewhat astounded. My impression was everything was under control until this officer decides to stop them for jaywalking," Lipton said, adding his client was apparently singled out for the jaywalking.
"After the officer pepper sprays him, another officer ends up being right there. They handcuff him and put him in the back seat of the squad car. He's still yelling and screaming. The camera is still facing forward. They drive away a short distance and the car pulls over again and my client is still yelling. He's yelling, asking for a specific officer he wants to talk to, (and says) 'Don't touch me. Just take me to jail.'"
"Then, as the camera is switched to view the back seat, you can see him sitting, obviously handcuffed, moving toward the middle of the back seat. You see the officer dive into the back seat and the officer has his hands around my client's neck and down they go out of the view of the camera," Lipton said, adding that he didn't time the video.
"He's yelling: 'He's choking me.' Basically, once I had gotten to that point, I was determined to share it with Ms. Rietz and (Champaign city council member and fellow defense attorney Tom) Bruno. I don't know if I've watched it all the way to the very end," Lipton said.
As the struggle was going on, a second officer's hand was broken, forming the basis of the charge against his client. Lipton said he didn't know how the officer was injured.
"Once I got to that point in the video, what my client told me was corroborated and I was convinced the state's attorney would take the action that Ms. Rietz ultimately took," Lipton said.
Rietz said Saturday that she chose not to pursue the prosecution based "on concerns I had about what I saw on the squad car video."
She said she met with Carter on Wednesday and on Friday both of them met with the state police.
"I think it would be a good idea to have a neutral outside set of eyes review the events," she said, adding state police still haven't said if they will.
Carter said the city will not put the video on the city's website — at Lipton's request — but said anyone who sees it would "maybe have the same questions I did."
"And that is just the thinking behind the initial stop and the use of pepper spray, the timing on that and some of the tactics used during the course of the arrest," Carter said.
Carter said the state police would look at whether the officer's actions were consistent with department policies and the law.
"I think the question is, first of all, whether or not in the course of the arrest did the officer violate any laws," Carter said.
After the arrest, a citizen complaint was filed against the officer. Police determined the officer's use of force was within policy and training standards.
But Carter said that investigation was incomplete.
"I looked over the report and it was not up to the usual standards of the ones that I see," he said.
The city manager does not typically see police complaints unless the citizen appeals the decision. The decision of whether to sustain or dismiss a complaint against a police officer is initially up to the police chief — in this case, outgoing Chief R.T. Finney.
"Typically there's a set of interviews of witnesses included, and those weren't included in this report," Carter said, adding the city has invited the man to appeal.
In the city press release, Finney, who plans to retire in January, takes sole responsibility for the investigation and says he continues "to have complete support and confidence in the men and women who work at the Champaign Police Department."
Carter also wants independent experts to review the complaint investigation process and the police use-of-force policy.
"You never like to have things happen that you question in terms of a police contact or an arrest," Carter said. "That's concerning."
The request for an outside investigation comes just weeks after the city was forced publicly to address allegations by some that 18-year-old Calvin Miller was beaten by police during his Oct. 24 arrest.
The city posted video of Miller's arrest on its website, and the evidence disproved some activists' claims.
Miller's father, Martel Miller, said the city should have the Federal Bureau of Investigations review the newest allegations because "the state police is too close" to the Champaign department, he said.
"They're trying to shape it to protect the rogue cops," Martel Miller said.