CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign police officer has been suspended for a month without pay for the fatal shooting of a teen last fall.
The discipline for Officer Dan Norbits was announced Thursday morning by City Manager Steve Carter, who determined the penalty for the 15-year officer. It is the longest suspension that can be imposed, under the city's contract with the union representing police.
Carter said he did not believe Norbits, 39, intended to fire his weapon but found that he violated police departmental policy by failing to maintain control of his weapon.
Carter told Norbits of his decision Wednesday. He said Norbits is off the rest of this week but will not have to serve the suspension until any possible appeal by the Fraternal Order of Police on his behalf is complete. Should Norbits decide to appeal, that could take months. Until then, Norbits remains on paid administrative leave working inside the police station.
“My heart goes out to the Carrington family as they continue to live with this tragedy. It has been a difficult time for everyone in our community, including our elected officials, police officers and other employees in the city of Champaign. We recognize that no action on the part of the city can make up for the loss of Mr. Carrington’s life,” Carter said.
Carter’s discipline was based on a three-tiered review  of the case: that of retired Urbana Police Chief Eddie Adair and Retired McLean County Circuit Judge John Freese; an internal investigation headed by Deputy Chief Holly Nearing; and a review by a five-member board of police officers who investigate officer shootings.
Tamara Cummings, lawyer for the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, said Norbits is "disappointed" by the decision, but has not made a decision about whether to appeal.
The review by Adair and Freese and that of Nearing agreed that Norbits, while not acting intentionally in shooting Kiwane Carrington on Oct. 9, had violated departmental policy on the handling of his firearm.
The Firearms Discharge Review Board recommended that professionals further review the circumstances of the shooting that occurred in the back yard of 906 W. Vine St., C, where Norbits and Police Chief R.T. Finney responded to a burglary in progress about 1:30 p.m. that day.
The two officers confronted Carrington and Jeshaun Manning-Carter, 16, believing that they were two of three suspects trying to break in the home. In the space of less than a minute, Finney had subdued Manning-Carter and Norbits had fired on Carrington although he said he had no intention of shooting him.
The reports were released Thursday morning by Carter.
In their report, Adair and Freese noted that Norbits has received several awards during his tenure but has also been disciplined on “several occasions.”
Citing the state Personnel Records Review Act, the prior acts for which Norbits was disciplined were not made public.
Adair and Freese’s report concluded that Norbits had received the proper training in the handling of his gun but apparently did not apply it.
The specific policy he was found to have violated involved the requirement that an officer keep his index finger on the barrel of the weapon until ready to fire. Norbits had his finger on the trigger of his .45-caliber Glock.
The report recommends not only that Norbits be disciplined for violating that policy but that the department make ‘indexing of a weapon,’ which is taught at the department’s basic orientation course, part of the annual firearms training officers receive.
Adair and Freese wrote that citizens have an expectation that they will be protected from the “accidental or careless use of a duty weapon by a police officer.”
They noted that Norbits wasn’t sure what he would find entering that back yard, having heard Finney order the youths to the ground and having seen him draw his weapon. Norbits followed suit, aware that Finney was struggling with Manning-Carter.
“Training would have informed Officer Norbits that he needed to maintain a safe distance from his subject with his weapon drawn and to not approach the subject to ‘put hands on’ without first holstering and securing his weapon. Instead, with Chief Finney engaged with his subject almost immediately to Officer Norbits’ left, Norbits advanced upon his subject (Kiwane Carrington) and tried to take his subject to the ground with one hand, his left hand, all the while holding his weapon in his right hand.
“Officer Norbits does not know how or why his duty weapon discharged. He does not suggest, nor is there any evidence, that Carrington struck or grabbed the weapon. In his statements to investigators, Norbits recognized that training required him to maintain his weapon with finger indexed, until he determined to discharge his weapon and also indicated that he did not intend to discharge his weapon on this occasion.
“There appears to be no other explanation for the firing of the weapon in this case than that, during his physical exertion to try to take Carrington to the ground with his left hand, Norbits’ index finger on his right hand (gun hand) placed sufficient pressure on the trigger to discharge the weapon. This is further supported by the autopsy report indicating that the path that the bullet traveled upon discharge suggests that Carrington was below the weapon when it discharged.
“Norbits’ actions ... were violative of the Illinois Mandatory Firearms Training Manual, as promulgated by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.”
Quoting from that body’s manual, the report said: “Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.”
Adair and Freese also pointed to a “deficiency in communication” between Norbits and Finney prior to the shooting.
“According to the statements of Chief Finney and Officer Norbits no communication occurred between them — either verbally or by signal — before or during the engagement of the suspects and the attempted arrests.”
They also noted how quickly everything happened. The last radio transmission by Finney before the gun was fired was at 1:30:22 when Finney was on foot east of 906 W. Vine and before he entered the back yard. The first transmission by Finney after the gun fired was at 1:31:06 when he called for an ambulance.
“A total of 44 seconds elapsed between these two transmissions and there was no intervening police radio traffic. It is appropriate to note that this total incident occurred during a relatively short period of time.”
In her internal review, Deputy Chief Holly Nearing concluded that while Norbits was well-trained for such incidents and that he did not intentionally use deadly force, he was “required to handle his weapon with due care, and the fact that it discharged most likely by (his) hand is evidence that it was not handled with due care.”
Nearing also noted that if Carrington had cooperated with Norbits’ instructions, “the discharge of the weapon likely would not have happened.”
The Firearms Discharge Review Board came to a similar conclusion. Having heard from both Finney and Norbits, the board concluded the officers used sound tactics in approaching the house with weapons drawn.
But the board, made up of five Champaign police officers, said the sudden appearance of Manning-Carter and Carrington “changed the dynamics.” Some board members, the report said, believe Carrington’s actions “so significantly affected this event that it was not possible to attribute the outcome to negligence by Officer Norbits.”
Still to come is a review of the shooting by the U.S. Department of Justice, requested by Carter. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is doing a review of the work that Illinois State Police did.
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz just last week dismissed charges against Manning-Carter alleging he resisted arrest by Finney. Earlier, she concluded that the officers had done nothing to warrant criminal charges.
More in Friday's News-Gazette.