Submitted by anonymous on November 12, 2006 - 12:45pm
By Brian Dolinar
Following on the heels of a similar proposition in Urbana, the Champaign police department is currently considering a citizen police review board. Just the mention of such an oversight has provoked reprisals from the Mayor, the News-Gazette, and their local law-and-order constituents.
The News-Gazette has already begun editorializing against a police review board. An editorial ran on October 11, 2006 titled, “Police review board plan raises problems.” As if concerned for the minority community, the editorial says a review board will be a “tough sell to people who have long viewed police either with suspicion or fear.” Of course, many leaders in the African American community have supported the formation of a police review board. The suggestion is that nothing can (or should) be done to improve police relations in the black community. Filing a complaint is a relatively simple act, according to the News-Gazette. A citizen police review board would “do nothing except duplicate an existing discipline process.”
This sentiment was echoed by another editorial in the News-Gazette from local citizen Michael Cook who said that Champaign police already has an “effective complaint process.”
Champaign police chief R.T. Finney has expressed his interest in a police review board if it would bring more credibility to investigations. But he also said, “We don’t see substantial problems with our complaint process.”
Co-founder of V.E.Y.A. (Visionaries Educating Youth and Adults) Martel Miller has had a different experience. It is the story of, as Miller says, “What you got to go through to file a police complaint in Champaign.”
On September 22, 2006, following a hip hop show by Ludicris, there were several after-parties. One was at the Iota house, a black fraternity on 1st Street. A young black man who will remain unidentified says he tried to get into the party but it was too crowded so he decided to leave. As he was walking out, police outside told him he could not go. He tried to explain that his car was across the street. They told him if he crossed the street he would be arrested. As soon as he stepped into the street, police arrested him for jaywalking. Usually jaywalking is a ticketable offense, but they arrested the young man, handcuffed him, and put him in back of the squad car.
Next the police pulled the young man from out of the car. While he was handcuffed, a police officer picked him up off the ground and slammed him against the trunk of the squad car. This was done as a show of force in front of a large crowd of African Americans who were by this time watching the whole incident. The young man was then taken to jail and bailed out the next day.
The day after the incident, Martel Miller got a call from the young man who explained how he was abused by Champaign police. Miller told him to go file a complaint at the Champaign police department. On September 24, the young man went down to the police station to file a complaint. He was met by Sergeant Matt Crane who got into an argument with him. The Sergeant would not let him file a complaint and threw him out of the police station.
Miller received a second call that day from the young man who said he had been refused the right to file a complaint. Miller decided to go down to the station with the young man and try to file a complaint for a second time. They gave the young man’s typed-written complaint to someone at the dispatch window and asked for a superior officer. Sergeant Crane came out with another Sergeant and 3 additional officers. As soon as Sergeant Crane saw the young man, he started yelling at him and tried to kick him out again. Miller interrupted and said, “This man is a citizen. He has a right to file a complaint.” The Sergeant began arguing with Miller. “The next thing I know,” Miller says, “the Sergeant is trying to put me out of the police station.”
Miller then pulled out his cell phone and called Mayor Schweighart who had in the past told Miller to call if there was ever a problem with his police. The Mayor’s answering machine was on and Miller left a message. The second Sergeant then stepped in to talk to Miller and diffuse the situation. Miller decided to leave but said he would be back to file his own complaint against Sergeant Cane.
On September 26, Miller went back down to the Champaign police department and delivered a typed-written complaint to Lieutenant Yohnka (See below). The Lieutenant told Miller that his complaint “wasn’t detailed enough.” He wanted Miller to dictate a complaint and Lieutenant Yohnka would write it out. Miller asked him if he could have a copy of the Lieutenant’s typed up complaint. Yohnka said, “No.”
Miller was given a form to sign agreeing to the truthfulness of a complaint that he still had not seen. The form said if the complaint was unfounded, Miller could be held liable. Miller currently has a $15 million law suit against Champaign for an incident in 2004 when police seized his video equipment and charged him with felony eavesdropping for videotaping police work. He is already suspicious of Champaign police and knows how they will manipulate the law to serve their own ends.
Miller asked Lieutenant Yohnka to fax a lawyer the complaint and he agreed. But Miller said Yohnka only faxed two blank sheets of paper. Miller called Yohnka on the phone and Yohnka flatly told him he could not have a copy of the complaint.
On October 19, Miller received a summary of his complaint, but not the entire document. He issued a Freedom of Information Act, but it was denied. According to Miller, the Champaign police are now rewriting the policy on filing a complaint. Miller says the message is:
“When you file a complaint, the Champaign police decide if they are going to take a compliant or not. They will write one down for you, but you can not see a copy of that complaint. So you don’t ever know what your complaint is. They say this complaint process is fair to the citizen.”
September 26, 2006
Champaign Police Department
82 East University Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
Dear R.T. Finney
This is about an incident that happened on Sunday 24 September. I was at Champaign police department with [a young man] to file a complaint. Sgt. Matt Crane would not let [the young man] file a complaint and put him out of the building. [The young man] called me and [I went back with him to] submit [his complaint] to the front desk. Then I asked to speak to a superior officer. Matt Crane came out with two other officers and Mr. Crane started to put [the young man] out and I said to Mr. Crane that [the young man] has a right to file a complaint. And Mr. Crane then decided that he was going to throw me out of the police station. He acted unprofessionally and tried to provoke me into an argument. The other officers stood by and watched him act unprofessionally.
And at that time I decided to call the mayor at home. After I called the mayor, that’s when the other sergeant decided to take some action and take control of the situation. But I believe that something should be done about Mr. Crane’s actions and that is why I am filing this complaint. Every citizen should have the right to file a complaint without feeling threatened. They have no right to put them out of a building.