Gulf in perceptions remains over arrest

Gulf in perceptions remains over arrest

Although findings of reviews don't change minds, there's a lesson to be learned — people must maintain their composure during police stops.

To hear some people tell it, there won't be a fourth review of a June incident in Campustown during which an unruly youth was pepper-sprayed by a Champaign Police officer.

To hear others describe it, the city council vote rejecting a proposed $85,000 review means that no examination of any depth will occur because the first three were cursory in nature.

That's just one example of the gulf of opinion over this unfortunate event and how it is perceived by supporters and critics of the police department. And that's probably where it will stand until the next incident — whenever it may be — exacerbates tensions between those who enforce the law and those who sometimes run afoul of it.

The hard feelings stem from the June 5 arrest of a Champaign teen, 19-year-old Brandon Ward, for jaywalking. While Ward was loudly complaining, Officer Patrick Simons hit him with a shot of pepper spray.

The pair tangled again when Ward refused to get out of the back seat of a squad car and Simons forced him out, an event in which Ward claims that he was briefly choked.

The incident was recorded on video, and the pepper-spray aspect, smoothly exploited by Ward's lawyer Mark Lipton, persuaded State's Attorney Julia Rietz to dismiss charges against Ward.

At the same time, an internal review of Ward's complaint of ill-treatment was dismissed by former Chief R.T. Finney. Subsequent reviews of the incident by the Illinois State Police and the FBI provide no legal grounds for filing criminal charges against the police officer.

City Manager Steve Carter, Mayor Don Gerard and council member Tom Bruno had urged a more exhaustive examination of the events as well as a step-by-step analysis of what occurred to allay public concerns as well as determine whether any changes in police rules or training are necessary. Now that the full council has rejected that plan, any further review will have to be done on an internal basis.

The results of any further study, however, will suffer the same fate as the previous inquiries. Most people who have been paying attention to this incident have made up their minds and will remain predisposed to their opinion no matter what.

People have fixed ideas about events like these. Some want to give the police carte blanche. Others find nothing the police do to be reasonable or necessary when it comes to the use of force.

It is worth noting that this incident grew out of a police stop of Ward for jaywalking, and that fact alone screams selective enforcement.

Jaywalking in Campustown on a summer night is a routine occurrence. What made this incident of jaywalking so pernicious that it required arrest?

Perhaps it was because of what came before. The stop by the patrol officer came after officers on foot already had broken up a potential problem involving separate groups, one of which included Ward.

It all might have come to nothing had not Ward continued to vehemently object to being stopped. That's when the officer used the pepper spray and circumstances went downhill from there.

One of the lessons here is that those people who are subject to a police stop must maintain their composure and behave in a civil manner. Obviously, police must meet the demands of their profession, but when they are acting lawfully citizens have no choice but to comply.

That's not just a requirement of citizenship, but common sense. Rude behavior, whatever the source, only begets more rude behavior. That's why incidents like this one occur.

We look forward to hearing at some point what conclusions City Manager Carter reaches and what changes, if any, he recommends. Meanwhile, a new police chief, Anthony Cobb, will be taking over the department in March, and we're confident he'll do all he can to ensure that incidents like these do not recur.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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parkmymeterelsewhere wrote on February 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

What the public/Resident of this area consider rude is the fact that the News Gazette censored/removed all public comments to the article posted online just after last tuesday night's council vote.   The Voter/Taxpayer of Chamaign have no representation/outlet for viable opinions.