Torture Exposed In The Champaign County Jail

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.

great reporting

This is exactly the type of reporting and research the News-Gazette and the television stations refuse to do. Great work, and as usual, the silence of the constant critics to this website is deafening, probably because it's hard to argue against actual documentation.

Actual Documentation

GreenGuy says: Actual documentation was all I ever asked for. Now we're getting somewhere, instead of just spouting off generalities and hearsay.

Yes, this is the great reporting....

Yes, this is the great reporting. However, one correction is obviously due: Champaign - Urbana do not occupy currently in the indymedia network a position described as " voice of sleepy midwestern college town". Ucimc got the leading position in the indymedia network through its non-profit status, new building, grants, etc., etc.. So, it is only reasonable to expect that this web can lead this campaign against prisons' torture much more extensively, presenting eloquent examples from other American cities' practices.

Rietz

I think we have to give Julia Rietz credit for prosecuting this. It doesn't seem like she had much choice other than handing the Hjort and Thompson cases over to special prosecutors - if she hadn't, she would have gotten into trouble for conflict of interest. Based on what I've heard, I think it's unfortunate that the appointed prosecutor didn't pursue the case against Hjort, and the verdict against Thompson was also disappointing. But I'm glad that Myers is facing criminal charges.

Rietz

Indeed, Wayward. But don't you think Rietz's attorneys would have at least called Michael Rich by now? Seems his account would make the Myers case a slam dunk. And she's still not off the hook. Why isn't Steve Beckett being prosecuted for bungling the Nursing Home deal? BD

Rietz' Involvement In The Myers Case

So let's connect some dots here: On November 6, 2004, Michael Rich was tortured by Sargeant William Alan Myers, who is employed by the Champaign County Sherriff's Department, and this department is represented by legal counsel, Julia Rietz, the newly-elected State's Attorney. When Michael Rich made a formal complaint to the Sherriff's office in May of 2005, Julia Rietz was still the State's Attorney at that time. On August 3, 2005, when Michael Rich received a letter from investigating officer Captain James Young notifying Mr. Rich that the placement of a taser in between his buttocks and into his rectum while handcuffed-; and,... after having been electrocuted as many as 3 times with 50,000 volts of electricity into his system while handcuffed; and,... after being severly beaten with a hood over his head,..... all while Mr. Rich was handcuffed,... was completely justified; Julia Rietz, the legal counsel for the Champaign County Sherriff's Department, was still employed as the State's Attorney, her duties also including the prosecution of criminals who break our laws, especially for violent crimes. When in late August, Michael Rich traveled back down here to personally meet with Sherriff Dan Walsh to complain that his complaints were not be taken seriously and that the account of the incident by Captain James Young was an incorrect account- even deliberately false; Julia Rietz was the current Champaign County State's Attorney. Which raises the first obvious question: Wouldn't Sherriff Dan Walsh tell the lawyer representing his department (State's Attorney Julia Rietz) there may be a problem with an inmate possibly suing the county government in the near future? And when in the months that follow, an Assistant State's Attorney from the Civil Division, Susan McGrath offers Michael Rich an undisclosed amount of cash to not press charges against Sargeant William Alan Myers for beating him bloody with a hood on, tasing him 3 times, and forcing the taser pistol into Mr. Rich's rectum, wasn't Susan McGrath employed by Julia Rietz, the State's Attorney? More questions: Isn't an offer of money to not prosecute a person who has allegedly committed severe violent acts, an admission of guilt that those acts actually did occur? You wouldn't give county tax dollars to someone for something that didn't happen, right? On what evidence did Susan McGrath believe Mr. Rich could prosecute Sargeant Myers? Why would an Assistant State's Attorney from Champaign County, Susan McGrath, want to avoid prosecuting Sargeant Myers for alleged violent acts on inmates in our county jail? Wouldn't the State's Attorney have to give approval to a lawyer representing her office who was offering any county government checks to Mr. Rich? Wouldn't the State's Attorney, who represents the Sherriff's Department in legal matters, review the language that appears on any document that Mr. Rich would have to sign had Rich accepted the money offered by Assistant State's Attorney, Susan McGrath? Wouldn't the State's Attorney, acting as the Sherriff's legal counsel, want whatever documents Mr. Rich signs be an agreement to not sue the county government and further strain an already tight County budget? If Mr. Rich had accepted the money, and then it was found that the language on that document Mr. Rich signed still allowed him to sue the county, who would represent the county in that lawsuit? Wouldn't Julia Rietz have known that Officer William Alan Myers was tasing inmates in the county jail before September 19, 2005 when Trina Farley was zapped by Sgt. Myers? And why did the State's Attorney give Ray Hsieh $10,000 so he could not sue the county? Is that another admission that Sgt. Myers really did unnecessarily taze Ray Hsieh? Can the public see the document that Ray Hsieh signed in exchange for $10,000 cash? Who's willing to file a Freedom of Information Act on the State's Attorney's office to see this document? On what grounds can State's Attorney Julia Rietz refuse such a request? How can the same lawyer who represents the county against what Sgt. Meyers did, also be the same lawyer elected to represent the People who want Sgt. Meyers prosecuted? Will the State's Attorney really send Sgt. Myers to a real prison in the Department of Corrections, or will Judge Difanis grant a 120-day, military-style boot camp for first time offenders to Officer Myers? What will be the recommendation of the State's Attorney's office at sentencing time? If Judge Difanis has a child employed as a police officer, can this Judge be counted to be fair to the People of Illinois in this case? Should the public feel safe and secure knowing that the punishment to a county jail guard for torturing another human being with a bloody beating and 3 jolts of 50,000 watts of electricity be 4 months of calestinics, and then be released back into our midst 4 months later? How will Julia Rietz be able to explain to the mothers and fathers of African-American children, who's children have to go prison when they commit violent assaults, that despite the extreme violence Mr. Myers is guilty of and despite that Sgt. Myers showed no remorse over his actions, but instead attempted to cover it up by falsifying police reports, and enlisting other officers to do so as well, even threatening them as their superior officer, that despite all that, Mr. Myers would be very unsafe to be housed in a regular prison in the regular population and therefore, boot camp is an "appropriate resolution to the case." Can she really explain all that to the fathers and mothers of African-American children that her office sends to prison weekly? Will Sgt. Myers be jailed for 364 days in his own County Jail and live with the inmates he used to torture? What does the State's Attorney know and when did she know it? Stay tuned to what ought to be the civil lawsuit trial of Trina Fairley and Michael Rich, where Steve Beckett could rake in tons of cash putting fellow-Democrat, Julia Rietz, on the witness stand.....were the principles of sound and moral law really applied. IF Julia Rietz gets a conviction on Sgt. Myers in the Hsieh Case, then the county's own lawyer has put them in jeopardy of a civil lawsuit by Rich and Fairly. Champaign County States Attorney Julia Rietz had better ask Judge Difanis to appoint Special Prosecutor Michael Vujovich to come back to town and do some more dirty work for her, lest she face some tough choices. Better yet, let's get James Dedman to explain to the press why Sgt. Myers can't be found guilty of anything. And as John Piland and Elizabeth Dobson can testify, elections are not the best form of job security, unless you got old friends working in other counties. Will Diane Sipich hire Julia Rietz, if god forbid, all this becomes the talk on WDWS?

Sgt. Myers

This Officer appears to have some serious psychological problems that need to be attended to. To me it is informative that his fellow officers have stood against him. Possibly he has in the past bullied them also and they should be commended for their efforts even though they may have been guilty of wrongs in the past. This was very good reporting as has been noted earlier and it does cause one to wonder how the News-Gazette can regard itself as a paper to be respected when it somehow cannot find the ability to investigate this type of horrendous affront to basic democratic principles.

Dates

Sgt. Myers will be in court November 20. Come help Community Court Watch be witness to this injustice! We will take the story to the County Board on November 21. We will be asking that Sheriff Walsh shape up or ship out. And we want an explanation into the 5 deaths in the county jail. Peace, BD

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