CHAMPAIGN — A federal judge dismissed an excessive-force lawsuit filed by the sister of a well-known homeless man who died in 2016 after a struggle with Champaign police.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric I. Long called the officers’ actions “reasonable” when they called for an ambulance, held him on the ground and handcuffed Richard “Richie” Turner, who died at age 54 on Nov. 16, 2016.
An attorney for Chandra Turner, the older sister of the late Richard 'Richie' Turner, 54, filed suit in federal court claiming that four Champaign police officers used excessive force in their interaction with Mr. Turner on Nov. 16, 2016, leading to his death.
“The officers were attempting to get Turner to the hospital for an involuntary mental health commitment,” Long wrote in his decision Friday. “When officers arrived, Turner was making sporadic movements, was incoherent, and was unable or unwilling to respond to the officers’ questions. The officers familiar with Turner noted that he was acting worse than normal.”
Given this, and that “he was wandering in the middle of the street in a highly trafficked area on the University of Illinois campus on a weekday morning,” Long wrote that “no reasonable jury could conclude that the officers were unreasonable in their decision to use limited force to restrain Turner.”
An attorney for Chandra Turner, the older sister of Mr. Turner who filed the lawsuit, said his law firm is reviewing the dismissal.
“We received the Court’s decision (Friday) and of course respect it. We are reviewing the opinion to determine our next steps, which of course include the possibility of an appeal,” Victor P. Henderson said. “The facts are undisputed that Richie was alive and enjoying his life before he encountered multiple police officers, and then he was dead just moments afterwards.
“It is in that context that the family will decide how to proceed.”
Family members and a wide range of friends recalled Richard "Richie" Turner, long a fixture on the streets of Campustown, as a free spirit who made connections with everyone who got to know him.
Raised in Champaign, Mr. Turner was a talented football player at Central High School and was remembered by friends as a kindhearted man, despite his mental issues and limited means.
Fred Stavins, the city attorney for Champaign, expressed sympathy to Mr. Turner’s family but said the city was “thankful” for the dismissal.
“We as a city express our sympathy to Mr. Turner’s family for the loss of Richard Turner,” he said. “We are thankful that the District Court found in favor of the city and its officers. We believe that the city’s police officers acted with consummate professionalism in this matter.”
The lawsuit had named the city of Champaign, as well as Sgt. Tom Frost and officers Michael Talbott, Andrew Wilson and Chris Young.
Officers called to scene
In his order dismissing the case, Long detailed the events leading up to Mr. Turner’s death, based on video of the encounter and depositions of the officers, paramedics, physicians and members of the coroner’s office.
A woman called police around 8 a.m. asking for someone to check on Mr. Turner, as he was “holding a partly empty bottle of wine, hollering at people and pulling the sleeve out of a trash can,” Long wrote.
Officers arrived shortly before 9 a.m. to the 600 block of South Sixth Street and found Mr. Turner acting abnormally.
When they approached him to ask him some questions, Wilson radioed for an ambulance.
Young and Wilson asked Mr. Turner to sit on the curb, but he instead ran away, Long wrote.
They found him in an alley nearby and video from Frost’s car “shows officers struggling to restrain Turner,” Long wrote.
When Wilson put his hand on Mr. Turner’s shoulder, Mr. Turner pulled away and shoved Wilson, the judge wrote.
Young then grabbed Mr. Turner’s left side, and Mr. Turner then tried to grab him back.
Mr. Turner was pulled to the ground while he “continued to kick and grab at the officers,” Long wrote. “Plaintiff disputes that Turner’s actions were intentional or aggressive. Instead, Plaintiff argues that Turner’s actions were a result of his mental illness.”
Mr. Turner was schizophrenic.
Long: No excessive force
The officers handcuffed Mr. Turner and used a “hobble” to tie his legs together.
At 9:07 a.m., Frost asked, “Is he still breathing?”
“I’m not feeling any breath,” Wilson said.
They then retrieved a defibrillator.
At 9:08 a.m., the defibrillator pads were applied, but the device signaled it wasn’t needed and instructed officers to begin CPR.
At 9:09 a.m., the ambulance arrived and paramedics took over.
Mr. Turner was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:42 a.m.
While “sadly, Mr. Turner ... died during (his) interactions with police,” Long wrote, that “death on its own is insufficient to show that the officers were responsible.”
“No reasonable jury could find that the officers used excessive force,” Long concluded. “There is no evidence the officers used force greater than necessary to restrain Turner. ... The officers seized Turner in a firm manner to encourage cooperation.”
The autopsy report also found that while the officers’ restraint “could be a contributing factor” to Mr. Turner’s death, it concluded that was not the cause.
Instead, it found that Mr. Turner had an enlarged heart and died of a heart attack, Long said.
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz also determined that there was “no evidence to support criminal charges against anyone in relation to Mr. Turner’s death.”
It’s unclear why Mr. Turner was acting abnormally that morning.
Despite the report that he was drinking, the toxicology report “did not report positive findings for alcohol or any drugs beyond caffeine and nicotine,” according to Long.