Community Court Watch Report: Another Cop Gets Off

Community Court Watch Report: Another Cop Gets Off By Brian Dolinar Community Court Watch has been following the case against former Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Garrett for several months. Garrett was facing four felony counts for, among other things, approaching Ty Kellums, boyfriend of his estranged wife, while in uniform and threatening him with the words, “I’m a cop. Watch your back.” Recently, on Friday, October 27, Garrett was given a plea bargain by State’s Attorney Julia Rietz’s office. Garrett entered a guilty plea to Judge Tom Difanis for a misdemeanor offense. He was sentenced to a $500 fine and 100 hours of public service, relatively little punishment for the significant erosion of public trust in the police and the trauma he caused for his wife and Kellums. The four felony counts against Garrett were for official misconduct, disorderly conduct, and intimidation. He pleaded guilty to the charge of illegally using police records to search the background of Kellums on May 16, 2005. But this was the least of the accusations. Other allegations included the offense of May 22, 2005, when Garrett staked out Kellums at his apartment. While on duty in his squad car and in uniform, Garrett approached Kellums and warned his estranged wife’s boyfriend, “I’m a cop. Watch your back.” Garrett then followed up on his threats in a clear abuse of his police power. On November 25, 2005, Garrett called a fellow deputy and sent him to perform a sobriety test on the couple in a parked car who had been out drinking that night. Garrett had apparently been stalking Mary Garrett and Kellums that night and figured he could play a little trick. The other deputy suspected he was being used for Garrett’s ploy and contacted a Champaign police officer who tested Mary Garrett and found she was well below the legal intoxication limit. Sheriff Dan Walsh was notified and Garrett was suspended (with pay) on December 17, 2005. Charges were brought against him a month later and State’s Attorney Julia Rietz told the News-Gazette, “Both the sheriff and I are very troubled by Deputy Garrett’s action. He abused his authority as a police officer and that will not be tolerated.” The recent plea bargain given to Garrett by Rietz’ office suggests that such police abuse will indeed be tolerated in Champaign County, just like Urbana Officer Hjort who has never been charged for allegations that he raped a 25-year-old woman. Turning a blind eye to such an abuse of power is not just something common to police departments, but also other law and order professions. Indeed, many police officers get their training in the U.S. military. Garrett had served in the Army National Guard and was formerly a state trooper in Louisiana. He currently lives in rural Tolono. This was not the end of Garrett’s spousal abuse. A restraining order had been placed on him on July 26, 2006, and his wife filed divorce papers on August 11, 2006. Ryan Garrett remains unapologetic and defiant. He told the News-Gazette that he had been looking forward to a trial to clear his name, but took the plea bargain for the sake of his children. Garrett’s attorney Robert Novak said, “In my opinion, Ryan Garrett pleaded guilty to the only offense he arguably committed – misuse of the police records-checking system. There was no intimidation. There was no false report. There was no official misconduct. You basically have a husband and father who was trying to find out if his wife was leaving him for another man.” Novak is also representing Sgt. Myers, another one of Sheriff Walsh’s deputies, who is being prosecuted for illegally using a Taser on inmates and then lying to his superiors about it. We will see if Myers also gets off lightly for much more serious charges. Mary Schenk, writer for the News-Gazette, found little fault in Garrett’s offenses and failed to mention the threatening comments allegedly made by Garrett. She raised no serious questions about repercussions of Garrett’s plea. Do Mary Garrett and Ty Kellums feel safe at night knowing that Garrett has a personal vendetta against them? What message does this send to other cops who might also abuse their power? Are police above the law in Champaign County?

Mary Garrett's Order of Protection

Mary Garrett filed an Order of Protection against her husband Ryan on July 22, 2006. This was after he left the Sheriff’s department and had felony charges against him. In the Order of Protection, Mary Garrett describes several incidents of physical and psychological abuse and how her husband told her she could do nothing because he was a cop. She writes: “I never reported any of this because he was a deputy for Champaign Co. and he told me numerous times it wouldn’t do me any good. And from my recent experiences with the police involving him it hasn’t.” Indeed, the plea bargain given to Ryan Garrett proved this observation to be true – police will not be fully prosecuted in Champaign County.

Citizens Review Boards

No wonder the police unions are negotiating for anonymity and sealed records kept from the public in the formations of a citizens review board overseeing complaints about police officers. And like Julia Rietz, the city councils are going along with whatever the police want. In light of The Garrett Case, The Myers Case, The Hjort Non-case, it's clear this protection from public exposure is a risk the citizens can ill afford, and may continue the current level of police corruption. We need to understand that the authorities may scapegoat one or two officers for their misdeeds as a publicity ploy, but there remains far too many officers on the force who think they can trick lawyers and juries to believe their falsified stories in court while the beatings, felonious charges and illegal searches and siezures go unnoticed and uncorrected. Now let's watch Julia squirm her way to a negotiated plea bargain with Novak over Sgt. Myers. The message is clear in Champaign County: Police officers are above the law, and can be as violent as they want to be because Julia Rietz will always "do right" by her husband's buddies.

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