URBANA — Cliff Paul Sr., his wife Lynda Paul, and their son Darius Paul agreed to meet with The News-Gazette after Paul's guilty plea Wednesday morning to set the record straight, as best they could, about what happened during their son's arrest by University of Illinois police on April 22.
In an exclusive interview, the Paul family and their lawyer, Steve Beckett of Urbana, said their main reason for speaking out was to address a supplemental University of Illinois police report that Beckett said had nothing to do with Paul's arrest for underage drinking.
That two-page report said a plastic bag found on the ground near where police tackled and handcuffed Paul field-tested positive for the presence of cocaine residue.
Beckett said during a meeting with UI officials Tuesday, the family was told that in response to Freedom of Information requests from media outlets, the UI would have to release every portion of the police reports generated in Paul's case.
"We were very upset. We felt it had nothing to do with this case," said Beckett of the plastic bag report.
In Tuesday's meeting, which Beckett characterized as a "great question and answer session" were: Cliff Paul, Lynda Paul and Darius Paul; Beckett; UI Police Chief Jeff Christensen; Deputy UI Police Chief Skip Frost; UI Police Capt. Roy Acree; State's Attorney Julia Rietz; and Associate University Counsel Rhonda Perry.
Rietz, who reviewed the reports for charging, agreed with Beckett's assessment on the plastic bag.
"There's no evidence other than the location of the bag to directly link it to Darius. I never intended on filing charges related to that. They (police) did not include that in their charges or as the basis for the arrest. They just felt they needed to document what they found at the scene. There isn't any evidence linking it to Darius," Rietz said.
Speaking from prepared remarks, Cliff Paul talked about that report as well as other feelings the family is experiencing.
"As a family we want to address the speculation that will naturally come from the release of the police reports. Our sons have nothing to do with cocaine. It is unfortunate that a plastic bag found on the ground in the neighborhood of Darius' encounter had to be tied to the reports in this case. This report had nothing to do with his conduct that night," he said.
"These have been difficult and disheartening times for our family. Lynda and I have raised our children to be respectful and personally responsible. As all parents would be, we were disappointed when we learned that our son used poor judgment. It would come as no surprise that we have told our children that being out in the late hours of the day, not taking care of yourself and consuming alcohol as well can only get you in trouble.
"As a career police officer, it is always troubling to me if someone shows disrespect to the police in any way. I have talked with our son about the choices he made that night and what police officers might think when put in the position the officers on the street that night were put."
The elder Paul thanked Christensen for his willingness to meet with them "to answer our questions and address the natural concerns that parents would have under the facts of this case."
Paul said he's been an officer with the Buffalo Grove Police Department for 18 years. He and his wife have been married 29 years and Darius Paul is the youngest of their three sons. Cliff Paul Jr. is 25 and Brandon Paul is 23.
"I obviously support police officers. I don't agree with everything that happened. I don't agree with the stop," said Cliff Paul.
Beckett said the police reports indicate one white male and two black males were walking in the area of a restaurant parking lot just east of the viaduct on Springfield Avenue at 3 a.m.
"They (police) focus on a white guy walking and two black guys walking after him. People are going to make things of that," Beckett said, adding that the officers said their concern was for the man being followed and later for Paul.
"They follow Darius. Nobody follows the white guy. The white guy just disappears. Is there fodder there for people? Sure. We are trying to get beyond that. We really are. The real focus is for Darius. He was out at 3 a.m. He was drinking. He shouldn't have been. When your parents tell you you shouldn't be doing that, that's the focus ... because stuff can happen. Here we are. It isn't about some law school question about whether the police were right or wrong," Beckett said.
Cliff and Lynda Paul agreed that their son made mistakes that he needed to learn from and that the family is indebted to the UI basketball coaching staff.
"Obviously we love the coaching staff. It is obvious we love the University of Illinois," she said, wiping back tears. "Darius has made mistakes. He's made a couple of mistakes. It's unfortunate but we have nothing but the highest regard for the coaching staff, the administrative staff, (athletic director) Mike Thomas. They have been extremely supportive. Our focus right now is to see what kind of assistance we can get for Darius, to take care of his spirit man, ... then we will address if there is any issue with sobriety and then we will address the basketball."
"Ultimately, for Lynda and me, our concern is for our son. We want Darius to learn from all of his life's experiences and we want him to grow as a person, and to be a better person as a result of those experiences — even if they are mistakes that he made. We can see from the underage drinking charge that Darius must address issues that many students must address about consumption of alcohol. As a family. we will continue to support him and help him address those issues," Cliff Paul said.
"We have a long-standing relationship with the University of Illinois and the basketball family here. We appreciate Coach (John) Groce's need to be vigilant not only for Darius, but for everyone on the basketball team. Our sons have had good educational and sports opportunities here. It is our hope that Darius will return and complete his college career here. We will do all that is possible for that to happen," the elder Paul said.
However, Lynda Paul said she wasn't sure when that would happen.
"Since this is really fresh, we haven't decided what we're going to do," she said.
Darius Paul did not directly answer how long he may have used marijuana.
The police report also makes reference to a discussion between Paul and a man who approached him, offering to sell him "DMT," a psychedelic compound that acts as an hallucinogenic if ingested.
"This was a stranger that came up to him," said Lynda Paul. "The only reason he (Darius) probably engaged in the conversation is because he (the stranger) mentioned his (Darius') girlfriend. Darius emphatically said no."
Lynda Paul said her son was familiar with what the drug was but did not want to buy it.
"I didn't know what his motives were. I thought he was trying to set me up," Darius Paul said of the stranger, who police never found.
Asked why he was out at 3 a.m., Paul said: "It was personal. I was out wandering, which I shouldn't have done. I should have been home."
In prepared remarks, Paul apologized to his family, his coaches and teammates and the police.
"I appreciate the job the police officers have to do. I've watched my dad as I've grown up. I remember when I was younger that he would have to work nights and I was worried about him. This incident shows that I overreacted to the police and the things that happened on that street," he said.
"Being out drinking with friends seems like fun, but look where I'm at now. I can only hope others can see how the choices we make as students can impact our lives," he said.