Champaign council wants to see contract before OK'ing probe of pepper spray incident
CHAMPAIGN -- City council members want to see a contract in front of them before they give the green light to a review of the circumstances surrounding a June 5 arrest and the police department's use-of-force policy.
On Tuesday, they were asked to give City Manager Steve Carter the authority to sign a contract valued at between $60,000 and $100,000 to retain an independent expert to, in part, conduct the investigation into a citizen complaint against a police officer.
Some council members said they wanted to give the city manager the authority on Tuesday night and one council member said he did not want to hire a consultant at all. But the consensus of the whole was to wait until a firm contract was ready to go, which will take several weeks.
That was the technical aspect of the vote, but the bulk of discussion revolved around how to address community concern over a controversial June 5 arrest, at which an officer pepper sprayed a man he apparently was attempting to arrest for jaywalking and the city's subsequent handling of the event.
"I would think good professionals welcome good professional investigations of themselves and others," said council member Tom Bruno.
Eight city council members wanted at least to see a contract in front of them, but some indicated that they could still be swayed one way or another about whether even to pursue another investigation into the incident and the department's use-of-force policy. The Illinois State Police and FBI have reviewed the arrest and found no violations of departmental policy or civil rights laws.
Bruno said those two investigations -- and an internal investigation into a citizen complaint during the summer -- were incomplete, and he's waiting to see a report he can rely on.
"I, for one, was very disappointed that the Illinois State Police didn't do a thorough investigation," Bruno said. "Everyone deserved that. Everyone. Especially the police officer involved."
Becky Dragoo, a Springfield field supervisor for the police union, chastised Carter on his handling of the situation. She said city officials improperly shifted blame onto police officers.
"If your policy is flawed, the fault lies with you, City Manager Carter, not with the troops on the street," she said.
She said city officials "exacerbated" a rocky relationship between the police department and some segments of the community.
"You and the police department administration set the policy, and our police officers followed it to the letter," Dragoo said.
Council member Paul Faraci was the only representative who voted to drop the issue. He said he received an overwhelming response from residents of his district in southwest Champaign.
"Overwhelming is an understatement," Faraci said. "They are opposed to us spending money on this."
As city officials look to replace a retiring police chief, he said, addressing the concerns should be the first item on the new department head's agenda when that person is hired early next year.
"My expectation is that the new chief takes control of this situation," Faraci said.