UI cop files complaint over his harassment investigation becoming public

UI cop files complaint over his harassment investigation becoming public

URBANA — A University of Illinois police officer who was the subject of a sexual-harassment investigation has filed a complaint with the department about the information becoming public.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Robert Jones has met with some of the police department's female officers and is reviewing how to address their concerns, according to a campus spokeswoman.

Officer Brian Tison was accused of harassing women in the department, including new recruits under his training, according to documents shared with The News-Gazette.

A campus sexual-harassment investigation concluded that Tison's conduct, including unwanted touching and suggestive remarks, did not violate the campus sexual-misconduct policy but called his behavior "highly inappropriate" and chided the police department for failing to stop it. Witnesses reported there had been "multiple conversations" with Tison about his behavior.

The News-Gazette had filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the UI in late August for a copy of the investigative report.

The university has released similar reports from other sexual-harassment investigations, most recently one involving UI law Professor Jay Kesan.

The UI denied the FOIA request. The News-Gazette subsequently obtained the information from other sources and published a story Nov. 4.

Tison then filed an internal complaint "based on his belief that it was inappropriate for the Title IX report to be publicly distributed," said UI police spokesman Patrick Wade.

The department is reviewing the complaint, Wade said, adding that he couldn't comment further until the process is completed.

A UI police investigator contacted The News-Gazette asking how the reporter obtained information from the report. The newspaper refused to divulge that information.

In its denial of the News-Gazette's FOIA request, the UI cited a provision of the law that exempts records "relating to a public body's adjudication of employee grievances or disciplinary cases," though the exemption does not cover "the final outcome of cases in which discipline is imposed."

The News-Gazette appealed that decision to the Illinois attorney general's public access counselor, which agreed to review the case.

"We have determined that further action is warranted," Assistant Attorney General Leah Bartelt wrote in her Nov. 1 letter to the university. She asked the UI to provide a "detailed explanation" of the factual and legal bases for its denial, as well as copies of the records involved for a confidential review. That response is expected Monday.

"We are waiting on a response from the university," department spokeswoman Annie Thompson said.

UI's interpretation of FOIA

Traci Nally, vice president for administration and general counsel for News-Gazette Media, said the newspaper pursued the appeal even after the information became public because the university hasn't complied with the FOIA request.

"My opinion is that the FOIA says that governmental bodies must disclose," she wrote in an email to the Illinois Attorney General's Office. "Unless the disclosure is made by the government or by someone authorized to make the disclosure on its behalf, the request is not moot."

UI spokesman Tom Hardy said the university's interpretation is that "the document in question is exempt if there's no discipline that's been spelled out or called out." Other cases where the reports were released may have included disciplinary action, he said.

"We're not making any judgment on what the content is or about any of the individuals that might be involved. We're just trying to be consistent in the application of these exemptions," Hardy said.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Access, which investigated the complaints against Tison, recommended that the July 14 report be placed in his personnel file, along with a letter ordering that he immediately discontinue the behavior in question. It also recommended that the police department provide sexual-harassment training for all supervisors and review its processes for handling sexual-misconduct complaints.

Police Chief Craig Stone, who joined the UI in June, said earlier this month that he has taken steps to implement the recommendations. Asked if Tison was disciplined, Stone said he followed the "performance partnership program" mandated in the labor agreement with the police union.

The program replaced a more traditional disciplinary system used by the university and is designed to be "both positive and corrective in nature," to recognize good performance and correct problems through informal, "nondisciplinary supervisory discussion" and formal "corrective steps" where appropriate, the labor agreement says. Those progressive steps include a "work performance reminder," a written reminder, "decision-making leave," and finally, discharge.

Behavior 'not acceptable'

Formal corrective action can be taken for "just cause," which is defined in the agreement. Among the infractions listed are "bullying or intimidating behavior" or "inappropriate interaction with university employees, students or the public."

Stone said the behavior outlined in Tison's investigative report was "not acceptable" and vowed swift action if it occurred again. He also said he would not allow any retaliation against those who filed the complaint or testified to investigators.

The chancellor and Stone met with a half-dozen female officers earlier this month, and a follow-up meeting was scheduled with the chancellor's staff.

"The women expressed their concerns. The chancellor and the chief listened. They were very grateful for the women sharing the details of their experiences. The chancellor and the chief are looking at ways they can address their concerns," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

Tison, a 22-year UI police veteran, is still on the job, though he no longer supervises recruits. He has declined to comment on specific details of the complaint, though he noted in a statement earlier this month that the investigator found he did not violate the sexual-misconduct policy.

Tison has been heavily involved in the police department's crisis-intervention team and in active-threat training on campus and has trained officers across the state on how to deal with people suffering from mental illness. His work was featured in two UI news releases in 2017, while the investigation was underway, including one when he and other members of the county's crisis-intervention team were honored with a community award.

-