Updated: Champaign officer arraigned in both counties; judges add no-contact orders

 

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URBANA - In a minutes-long court hearing early Wednesday afternoon, Champaign police officer Jerad Gale was told he could spend as many as 30 years in prison if convicted of sexually assaulting a former girlfriend in Champaign County in November 2013.

Appearing before Judge Tom Difanis, the 31-year-old Champaign man was arraigned on charges of aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault and aggravated domestic battery.

The charges allege that he anally penetrated a 23-year-old woman and tried to strangle her by covering her nose and mouth and pressing her head into a pillow.

The woman came forward with the allegations in early May. Illinois State Police have been investigating since and talked to two other women making similar allegations.

Piatt County State's Attorney Dana Rhoades filed criminal sexual assault charges Tuesday against Gale for an assault that allegedly occurred with one of those women in July 2012.

No charges were filed regarding the third woman because she reported what happened to her beyond the three years allowed under the law for her to come forward.

Although he appeared with Champaign County Public Defender Randy Rosenbaum, Gale told Difanis that he would like two weeks to hire his own attorney.

Difanis agreed to that and told him to be back in court July 13.

Gale's bond was left at the $250,000 that Difanis set on Tuesday when he issued the warrant for his arrest. Difanis also ordered Gale to have no contact with the victim and to turn over any weapons he owns to the Illinois State Police.

After the hearing, State's Attorney Julia Rietz stressed that she and Rhoades have "no evidence to suggest that any of the offenses charged had anything to do with his work as a Champaign or Monticello police officer."

"We are confident in the strength of our evidence, which is why we have proceeded as we have," said Rietz.

She said she and co-counsel Stephanie Weber will be meeting with Rhoades and Piatt County Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Dobson, who used to work as a Champaign County prosecutor, soon to decide which county should prosecute Gale first.

Meantime, Gale will continue to be held in the jail in Monticello.

Earlier Wednesday:

MONTICELLO — Wearing an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, Champaign’s 2014 police officer of the year was arraigned this morning in Piatt County court on two felony counts of criminal sexual assault.

It was the first of two court appearances Jerad Gale, 31, is expected to make today, a day after he was arrested on criminal charges from two counties alleging he forced past girlfriends to engage in sex acts against their will.

He is due this afternoon in Urbana, where he is charged with three felony counts — aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault and aggravated domestic battery.

This morning’s arraignment in Monticello lasted six minutes. Gale appeared without an attorney. When Judge Karle Koritz asked him if he planned to hire one, Gale first said his family is working on it "but I’m not sure if it will happen or not."

Later, he told the judge, "My intent is to hire an attorney."

Also today:

— Piatt County Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Dobson requested that Koritz grant a no-contact order with the alleged named victim. The judge did.

— Gale requested that his bond be reduced. Koritz told Gale he’d need 24-hour written notice before considering it.

Gale, 31, was arrested Tuesday after he talked with Illinois State Police investigators who had been looking into allegations of sexual assault against him for about a month. He is on investigative leave from the Champaign Police Department, where he started in August 2012.

Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said the investigation began after Gale’s former girlfriend, a University of Illinois student, went to UI police on May 5 to tell them about an alleged assault by Gale that happened in November 2013.

"She’s a victim of sexual assault in a new relationship. I don’t know why she waited (to come forward.) I believe it happened at his residence in Champaign," Rietz said.

The investigation was given to Illinois State Police, who learned from the former girlfriend — and two previous girlfriends who were also UI students — that Gale committed sex acts with them that they were unwilling to engage in.

The state police investigation culminated in charges being filed Tuesday by Rietz in Champaign County and by Piatt County State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades. Bond on the warrants issued in each county was set at $250,000, meaning Gale would have to post $25,000 in cash in each county to be released.

The Champaign County charges, all stemming from an incident Nov. 9, 2013, are:

— Aggravated criminal sexual assault, a Class X felony, alleging that he committed anal sex on the woman while holding her down, causing bodily harm, including a neck strain and a bruise to her arm. It carries a mandatory prison term of between six and 30 years upon conviction.

— Criminal sexual assault, a Class 1 felony carrying four to 15 years in prison upon conviction, also alleging the sex act by the use of force.

— Aggravated domestic battery alleging that he held her down and choked her during the sexual assault. It’s a Class 2 felony carrying penalties ranging from probation to three to seven years in prison.

Rietz said that woman had been in a relationship with Gale from November 2012 to November 2013.

Rietz said that the woman in the Piatt County case had dated Gale between 2008 and July 2012 and that they were living in Monticello, where Gale worked as a Monticello police officer for three years.

State police investigators also located a third woman who told them of unusual sexual activity by Gale with her during their relationship, which spanned 2003 to 2008.

But because the activity fell outside of the statute of limitations, criminal charges cannot be filed.

Rietz said the victim has three years from the time of the alleged offense to report it. She chose not to do that.

However, Rietz said both she and Rhoades intend to seek to use that information as well as the charges in each other’s counties as "propensity" evidence against Gale. That means they will try to establish that he has a tendency to engage in a certain kind of behavior and that the events were both close in time and factually similar.

Rietz explained there is a specific statute that allows for the introduction of such evidence in sex cases.

A judge will have to hear that evidence before deciding if the trier of fact should also hear it.

Gale, a field training officer for Champaign police, was tabbed for the Champaign Exchange Club’s officer of the year award for 2014 in March.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).