CHAMPAIGN -- A three-week hiatus surely did not ease tensions between city officials and police officers, one of whom told the city council on Tuesday night that their consideration of an independent investigation of a summer arrest is a "witch hunt."
In recent weeks, the city's police union has chastised city officials, particular City Manager Steve Carter and Mayor Don Gerard, for not supporting the police department.
Carter, who is not an elected official, has remained relatively silent after the reprimands from the police department, which have come in both spoken and written form. But the elected city council members have been vocal in his defense.
Much of the dissension has followed the public reception of a leaked video of a June 5 arrest, in which Champaign police officer Patrick Simons apparently stops then-19-year-old Brandon Ward for jaywalking. Simons pepper sprays Ward, and the tactic has drawn both scrutiny and defense from community members who have interpreted the video differently.
The Champaign Police Department, Illinois State Police and the FBI have all reviewed the arrest, and all have cleared the officer for his actions. But city officials have said the investigations were not thorough, and the situation needs further review from an independent expert.
The city council is now considering spending between $60,000 and $100,000 on such an investigation of the arrest and the department's use of force policy.
Champaign police officer Art Miller told the council on Tuesday that the request is a "witch hunt."
"To continue pursuing an outside review of this incident and the CPD use of force policy is a colossal misuse of taxpayer money," Miller said.
In December, a police union representative likened the situation to a political war, like Vietnam. That union representative told Carter that "this is your Vietnam."
Carter is a Vietnam veteran, and the statement drew the ire of some city council members.
On Tuesday, Miller thanked Carter for his service in the Vietnam War, but said the city should drop the scrutiny of the Ward arrest.
"When I chose to answer the call to be a police officer, I knew there would be a segment of the community that despised me for what I stand for," Miller said. "But never did I would think I would face such scorn from the officials of the city I work for."
Mayor Don Gerard said it has become "tiresome" to hear that the arrest has already been investigated three times and that a fourth would be overkill. The first three reviews, he argued, were incomplete.
"It has been investigated zero times," Gerard said. "We've stated this time and time again, we would like to have an actual investigation."
He also refuted claims that he does not support the police department. He repeatedly has gone on the record praising police officers, he said.
"It's ridiculous and it's nonsense," Gerard said. "We do constantly. Turn on your radio. Read the newspaper."
The war of words has not been uncommon at city council meetings lately. After Gerard made his remarks, Miller said he had little further comment.
"He has his opinion. I have my opinion," Miller said. "That's the beauty of our country."