CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois State Police on Tuesday cleared a Champaign police officer after city officials asked for a review of the amount of force he used in a June 5 arrest, but Mayor Don Gerard is rejecting that investigation as “unacceptable.”
State police officials concluded the officer’s actions — primarily the use of pepper spray in subduing the arrestee — were consistent with the local department’s policy. The announcement affirmed the finding made by Champaign police officials following the arrest.
Gerard said his “jaw hit the table” when he read the state police findings.
“We requested a thorough investigation, and what we received was a review of our own investigation,” Gerard said.
According to a news release, the state police based their findings on the Champaign department’s use of force review, which had already cleared the officer.
“Champaign Police Department policy states that the use of OC spray ‘is intended to be used primarily against unarmed subjects who officers reasonably believe hand indicated physically and/or verbally that they intend to resist arrest or assault an officer or another person,’” the news release reads.
State police officials found that, having responded to a report of a fight in progress, the officer was on a routine patrol in Campustown.
“The officer observed a group in the intersection of 4th and Green against the traffic signal, disrupting traffic,” the statement says. “The officer approached the group, and directed the group to relocate. A pedestrian refused the officer’s command and became combative, resisting the officer’s attempt to make an arrest. The officer followed department policy and used the appropriate technique to gain compliance without injury to himself or the suspect taken into custody.”
After a video of the incident came to the attention of city officials, City Manager Steve Carter and State’s Attorney Julia Rietz called for a state police review of the officer’s use of force. On Saturday, Carter said the events he observed in the video were “troubling,” and last week, Rietz dismissed all charges against the arrestee.
Carter said he had questions about the officer’s rationale for the initial stop, the timing of his use of the pepper spray and “other tactics” used in the course of the arrest. He offered no further comment on Tuesday.
“The Champaign Police Department conducted a thorough investigation and based on the findings from the Champaign Police Department’s investigation and the ISP independent review, it has been determined that the officer’s actions were within department guidelines,” state police Region 3 Commander Todd Kilby says in the release.
Gerard said the state police review was not nearly as thorough as he expected, and the city will now seek a review from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and independent experts.
Gerard added that, after the chief of police found the officer’s use of force within department policy and the state police confirmed that finding, maybe it is time to change the rules on the use of pepper spray.
“Perhaps symantically and within the letter,” the officer’s actions may have been consistent with the policy, he said. But Gerard believes that “you can go to 99 officers” in the department who would not have handled the situation that way.
Gerard made his comments shortly before the Champaign City Council convened its Tuesday night meeting, another in a series of weekly gatherings that have been well-attended. During the meeting, Gerard read a prepared city statement expressing officials’ desire for further review.
His reading received applause from the audience.
Seon Williams had come over from another community gathering, and he said he was not sure what to tell the citizens who were at that meeting. That was before the city’s announcement that it would seek a more thorough investigation.
“I think tonight you have made a great gesture,” Williams said.
The Rev. Ervin Williams commended the city.
“I’m just excited by the news and the message that it sends back out to our community,” Ervin Williams said.
W.S. Davis Jr. said the arrestee is staying at his residence now, and his voice broke while he addressed the council.
“He asked a simple question: ‘Why are you arresting me?’” Davis said. “He got pepper-sprayed.”
Earlier Tuesday night, Davis asked the arrestee why he did not jump out of the officer’s car when he was allegedly grabbed around the neck in the back seat.
“His words to me were, ‘I didn’t want to die that night,’” Davis said. “That’s crazy.”