Torture Exposed In The Champaign County Jail
By Brian Dolinar
Many are now familiar with the infamous story of Sergeant Jon Burge in Chicago. In 2002, it was found that Sgt. Burge and his underlings had tortured over 150 Black men in Chicago jails. Burge had used a hand-cranked army field phone to deliver electric shocks to criminal suspects.
We often assume that these incidents of police brutality only occur in big cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Yet the discovery of these abuses in Champaign-Urbana, a sleepy Midwestern college town in downstate Illinois, is a sign that they are going on all over the country.
As violence escalates overseas, with the United States tightening its imperial grip in the Middle East, we see a corresponding rise in violence at home. Like Sgt. Burge who learned his torture techniques in Vietnam, the use of hoods to torture individuals was discovered in Champaign County jails not long after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in the media.
In November 2005, Sergeant William Alan Myers, a 14 year veteran of the Sheriff’s office, was turned in by fellow officers for illegally using a Taser on an inmate in the Champaign County jail. The story also involved placing hoods over inmates. An investigation was conducted by the Sheriff’s office and its report is where much of the following information was gained. In the investigation, it was also found that 21 year old Michael Rich was hooded and tased a year earlier in November 2004. These revelations are a textbook example of police corruption and what it takes for cops to cross the “blue line” of silence.
Sheriff Dan Walsh praised the “professionalism and integrity” of the correctional officers who turned Myers in. Yet the same officers who ratted on Myers had been involved in previous beatings of Michael Rich and willingly falsified police reports about the incident. Additionally, Sheriff Dan Walsh had already been notified about his rogue correctional officer.
He Looked Like A Taliban Prisoner
Sgt. Myers is currently being prosecuted by State’s Attorney Julia Rietz on charges of aggravated battery, obstruction of justice, and disorderly conduct (Case no. 05CF2105). The incident involved inmate Ray Hsieh, a 31 year-old Chinese man who was in jail for stealing a car. To stop an argument between Hsieh and another inmate, correctional officers sprayed a heavy cloud of pepper spray. Hsieh was cleaned up in a cell shower and placed in a restraint chair. Due to the amount of pepper spray he had inhaled, Hsieh could not stop spitting and officers had placed a “spit hood” on him for their protection. According to correctional officers Jeremy Heath and Joshua Jones, who eventually turned Myers in, Hsieh was always in handcuffs and was not trying to spit on them. Myers would later try to convince his fellow officers to say Hsieh was not restrained, was spitting on officers, and resisting their demands, hence his need to use a Taser to subdue him.
After hearing about an altercation between two inmates, Myers arrived at the downtown jail at approximately 8:00 pm on November 14, 2005. He had called Sgt. Mennenga from the satellite jail and requested the use of a Taser. When others saw Myers enter the shower room where Hsieh was being held, they say he had a look of determination on his face and was holding a Taser. Breaking police procedure requiring that other assisting officers always be present when handling an inmate, Myers sent officers Heath and Jones, as well as correctional officers Arnold Matthews and Craig Wakefield, out of the room. Sgt. Myers was their superior and they obeyed his orders. But they stood at the door and watched as Myers, by himself, tortured the fully restrained Hsieh.
When interviewed by investigators, Ray Hsieh recalls he had a “mask on” while he was attacked. An inmate who witnessed the incident told an investigator that Hsieh “looked like a Taliban prisoner” with the hood on.
Hsieh was tased four times at 50,000 volts, with several minutes between each shot. He was later found to be mentally ill and probably needed medication for his behavior in the jail. But before he could be treated by a nurse, he was treated with the brutal shock therapy of Sgt. Myers.
One inmate told an investigator that the officers “were just kind of laughing it off and stuff.” Another inmate who was interviewed said that officer Matthews joked, “He’s going to have a bad headache.”
Afterwards, Myers told Heath, “This is going to take some creative report writing.” Myers typed up a falsified police report and emailed it to Heath, telling him “Make your report look like mine.” Myers’ report read:
“Hsieh stood up and spit on my shirt and I fired the Taser again. I had to fire the Taser one more time until Officers Mathews and Heath were able to handcuff Hsieh behind his back. We placed Hsieh in the restraint chair. The entire time we were doing this, Hsieh was spitting so I ordered a spit hood placed over Hsieh’s head to prevent him spitting on us anymore.”
When officer Heath saw the report, he was offended that Myers had included his name. “He says that I was there,” Heath told an investigator. “The main thing that really bothers me is that he said I was there while he was being tased.” Of course, Heath was not bothered by the torture of an inmate, but that he was implicated in the incident.
Officer Heath left the jail that night without finishing his report. His defiance angered Myers, who told officer Jones to relay a message to Heath: “You tell him his ass is mine tomorrow.” This tale of police corruption reveals the power that superiors hold over their subordinates, as well as the routine practice of falsifying police reports.
That night the officers involved – Heath, Jones, Matthews, and Wakefield – met at Todd and John’s bar for beers and discussed what they should do. Officer Wakefield told an investigator about their decision to turn Myers in, “we knew what we needed to do from the beginning. It was more a matter of, I don’t even know what it was a matter of, but we knew what we had to do from the beginning. It was just a matter of doing it, I guess.”
Officer Mathews was also named in the report. When he read it he responded, “the report kinda like made, I felt, kinda like made me look like a jack ass.” Matthews also was not concerned for the health of Hsieh, but for the future of his job. He told an investigator, “I got a house and kids, I can’t lie.”
It was primarily Jones and Heath who decided to go to the police union representative, who notified Captain James Young that night. Sgt. Myers was arrested on November 16 and taken to the Piatt County Jail in Monticello for his own safety.
An internal investigation was conducted that involved interviewing several witnesses, whose testimony is included in Myers’ criminal case file and is the basis of this account.
When investigators finally cornered Myers about his lying, they lectured to him, “when someone does that, then they question the integrity of us all.” Myers claimed he panicked and said he didn’t realize he had committed a crime, “I didn’t think about it till now.”
Ray Hsieh was one of two inmates Myers had tortured that very same week. According to Sgt. Mennenga, Myers later joked about torturing inmates, “I have had to Taser somebody twice within the past week, they might start thinking I am getting trigger happy.” Myers had also used a Taser on inmate Michael Alexander that same week. He even bragged to Mennenga, “it seems like I am the only one with enough balls to use the Taser.”
On September 19, 2005, Sgt. Myers also used a Taser on Trina Fairley, a Black woman who was one month pregnant. But Myers’ use of Tasers and torture goes back even further, to an incident with Michael Rich a year before the Sergeant was turned in.
This Is The Way We Do Things Down Here
On November 6, 2004, just days after George W. Bush was reelected, Michael Rich was picked up by Urbana police at the Canopy Club. This was Rich’s first visit to Urbana-Champaign. He had come down from Chicago to go to a show with some friends. Staff at the Canopy Club called the police on Rich, claiming he was drunk and had failed to pay admission. Rich admits he had a few drinks that night but says he sobered up quickly after the police arrived. In the report, Urbana police officer Daniel Bailey writes that the staff member at the Canopy Club, “said Rich was just verbally abusive and not physically” (Case no. UU0407560).
Rich told me he was still reeling from Bush’s reelection when he had his encounter with Myers. A 21 year-old, long-haired college student from Northern Illinois University, Rich was rebellious but not ignorant of his rights. Rich says when he entered the jail he still had not been read his Miranda rights. When he asked what his charges were, the response was “shut the fuck up.” He called Myers a “fascist,” and Myers proved Rich’s observation to be true. Sgt. Myers grabbed Rich by his hair and slammed his head repeatedly into a wall. He told Rich, “This is the way we do things down here.”
Already in handcuffs, Rich was placed in a restraint chair, what the police call being “hog-tied.” A hood was placed over his head while Sgt. Myers and another correctional officer who Rich could not identify took turns hitting him in the back of the head with an open hand. As they were beating him, Rich asked how they were going to explain his bloody condition. The unidentified officer said, “You came in here like that.”
In the supplemental report authored by Sgt. Myers it states, “Mr. Rich was bleeding from his mouth area from the altercation he had prior to coming to the jail” (Case no. S-2004-5123).
Ironically, also present were Jeremy Heath and Joshua Jones, the same two officers who turned in Myers a year later. This time Heath went along with Myers, even helping to cover up his torture and abuse. Heath wrote in his report on Rich, “his lip was bleeding a little when UPD brought him in.”
After leaving Rich tied up for some time, Sgt. Myers returned to take him out of the restraint chair and uncuffed his hands. Rich immediately grabbed the hood, which was soaked in blood. Myers screamed at him to let it go, but Rich refused, believing the bloody hood was evidence of the beating. Myers drew his Taser gun and fired it at Rich, who fell to the ground. Myers, who is six feet, three inches tall and nearly 300 pounds, climbed on top of Rich. According to a complaint filed by Rich:
“Sgt. Myers then tasered me in the upper left side of my back and I fell to the ground. He then dropped to the ground and began tasering me in my chest and arms and I gave up and turned over onto my stomach so he could cuff me. He then tried to push the taser in the crack of my butt and I rolled back onto my side and pushed Sgt. Myers off me.”
This account is included in a formal complaint Rich filed with Sheriff Dan Walsh’s office, which I acquired from Rich himself. The complaint was filed in May 2005. Captain James Young wrote a letter to Rich dated August 3, 2005 in which he replied, “I have determined that the force used in controlling you while in the booking area was justified.” Nevertheless, Rich met personally with Dan Walsh in late August and the Sheriff told him he would investigate the case. Walsh apparently did nothing.
Rich wishes to see Myers fully prosecuted and is willing to testify in the case against Myers. Still, Rich wonders why he was not asked to identify the second officer who participated in his beating. He was later contacted by Civil Division Assistant States Attorney Susan McGrath who offered him a cash settlement contingent upon his not pressing charges against Myers.
Just recently, in July 2005, Rich had all the charges against him dropped.
Not only did Sgt. Myers physically abuse Rich, put him in a hood, but he tried to sodomize him with a Taser. This kind of sadistic behavior, the practice of hooding prisoners, has been banned by an Army Field Manual recently released by the Pentagon and is officially prohibited in the now notorious prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Are we going to let this be tolerated in our local jails?
Rich was just one semester from finishing his B.A. at Northern Illinois University, but after the November incident, subsequent court dates, and personal trauma, Rich was expelled from school. His life was literally ruined by Sgt. Myers. Will State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, who often speaks on conservative talk radio about her concern for victim’s rights, ensure that Michael Rich sees justice?
I have personally brought these documents to the attention of Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Ziegler, who is handling the Myers case. We will see if Rietz’s office fully prosecutes Sgt. Myers or if he receives a plea bargain with no time served. Rietz herself is married to an Urbana police officer, an obvious conflict of interest in prosecuting cases. If the treatment of Urbana officer Kurt Hjort, who escaped prosecution for his alleged rape of a 25 year-old woman, is an indication of the special favors accorded to law enforcement officers in this community, we can expect no real punishment for Sgt. Myers.
What if Sgt. Myers had tortured a U of I student? What if Officer Hjort would have raped a 25 year-old woman attending the U of I and not a gas station attendant? What will it take before we as a community are disturbed enough to take action?
Often, we refuse to believe that the those who are hired to “serve and protect” could beat citizens and falsify police reports to justify their abuses. The Myers story shows that this occurs regularly and is covered up by fellow officers.
To avoid a civil law suit, Ray Hsieh was paid an undisclosed amount of up to $10,000 and his charges were dropped. We cannot let them buy us all off. We can no longer be silent. With over 2.3 million people in our jails and prisons, with massive overcrowding, abuse is predictable. Both at home and overseas, the United States is creating a culture of imprisonment that betrays the intentions of the founding fathers who wished to create a democracy where “cruel and unusual punishment” is a thing of the past.
This story is largely based on public court documents. For more information search the Circuit Clerk website at https://secure.jtsmith.com/clerk/clerk.asp