Illinois Public Media News
An ordinance banning outdoor storage of indoor furniture was approved by the Urbana City Council's Committee of the Whole.
The ordinance follows a recent Urbana house fire that left 25 year old Ashley Ames severely burned. The fire started on a front porch couch. Fire Chief Michael Dilley says the ordinance is geared to limit overstuffed furniture such as couches, chairs and mattresses because its a large ignition source.
Dilley says outdoor furniture fires are not an isolated incident in Urbana in past years, and the regulation is not a restriction of one's freedom of choosing a lifestyle.
"We regulate lifestyle every day," Dilley said. "We have codes and ordinances that help people be safe, and this is just another one that over a period of years we've found that it's a problem. We don't just go out and pull something out of thin air. When we start having issues when people die, then we look at them."
Aldermen Dennis Roberts was the only vote in dissent. Roberts says people used to say quote "your home is your castle."
"It's possible, yes, that a fire could start on a porch because of a couch," Roberts told the council. "But does that mean no one should ever have a couch on the porch? I don't think so. I think we have to use common sense, and I think it's a shame that we're trying tro regulate people's styles of living outdoors."
The Urbana City Council will vote on the Ordinance next Monday.
In addition, Mayor Laurel Prussing says that June 8th 2010 has been proclaimed Al Johnston Day in Urbana. The veteran Urbana Police Officer recently retired.
The NAACP's national headquarters has ordered its Terre Haute branch to reorganize and remove all of its top officials for failing to comply with the civil rights group's policies.
The Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sent a letter to its Terre Haute branch directing it to reorganize and remove all of its elected officers and executive committee members.
Rev. Gill Ford of the national group says the branch is being reorganized, not disbanded.
The move comes seven months after the Terre Haute branch hosted the statewide NAACP convention in Terre Haute. That event attracted 300 statewide delegates.
The attorney representing Kiwane Carrington's family in their civil lawsuit against Champaign Police says Thursday's decision to suspend the police officer involved to 30 days' unpaid suspension doesn't necessarily make their case stronger.
But James Montgomery Junior says he plans to build the family's case on the testimony of the only other witness to the shooting other than the officers - the teenager who was with Carrington, Jeshaun Manning-Carter.
"While Officer Norbits claims he doesn't remember them (certain alleged facts in the case that Montgomery wouldn't disclose), this young man does, and (he) will shed clear light on the fact that Kiwane Carrington was wrongfully shot, and there was some conduct there that went beyond accidental firing of the weapon."
Montgomery calls Officer Daniel Norbits' 30 day suspension a good first step toward picking up the pieces from the shooting. Yet another investigation of the police shooting incident - this one by the Justice Department -- is still in progress.
The officer who shot and killed a teenager during a scuffle behind a Champaign home last fall will be suspended without pay for 30 days.
Officer Daniel Norbits and Police Chief RT Finney had responded to a call on Vine Street last October 9th-in the ensuing confrontation with 15 year old Kiwane Carrington and another teen, Norbits' firearm went off, killing Carrington. The incident worsened already-tense relations between Champaign police and African-Americans in the city. 30 days unpaid suspension is the toughest discipline allowed short of termination under the city's union contact with police.
Retired McLean County judge John Freese was one of two outside experts asked to investigate the incident. Freese found that Officer Norbits violated police rules by not having enough control over his firearm with struggling with Carrington - namely, his trigger finger was improperly placed.
"While the officer was using his left hand to try to take Carrington to the ground, the weapon which was in his right hand had sufficient pressure placed on the trigger to discharge the weapon," Freese said. "And training would have expected the officer to have his finger indexed on the side of the weapon so it would be outside of the trigger guard."
City Manager Steve Carter also used an internal investigation to determine that Norbits failed to maintain control of the weapon. He believes the discipline fits the violation - it's the strongest punishment short of firing.
"The death of a person in Champaign-Urbana is a serious matter for sure," Carter said. "The public has some right to expect our police officers to handle their weapons in a way that doesn't endanger the public."
The other outside investigator in the case, retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair, says the indexing technique is taught to all officers, but it should be reiterated every year to rookies and veterans alike.
"We see this as an opportunity to improve on how we administer our training," said Adair. "Because even if it is a tragic incident, it's still an opportunity for us to learn as human beings. That's what's most important here."
The union representing Champaign Police issued a prepared statement saying it's extremely disappointed by Norbits' suspension. The Fraternal Order of Police labor council says Carrington brought about the tragedy through his own resistance.
In December State's Attorney Julia Rietz decided not to file criminal charges against Norbits or Finney. Earlier this month, the state's attorney's office dropped a juvenile charge against the other boy involved in the incident.
A Cook County judge has lifted a temporary restraining order on a never-enforced Illinois law requiring that a girl's guardians be notified before she has an abortion, but that doesn't mean the law goes into effect right away.
Judge Daniel Riley on Monday also approved a stay, or grace period, to let appeals be worked through in the case.
The law requires doctors to notify the guardians of a girl 17 or younger 48 hours before the girl gets an abortion.
Earlier this month, Riley heard arguments from the Illinois attorney general's office and the American Civil Liberties Union on the 1995 Parental Notice of Abortion Act.
ACLU of Illinois Executive Director Colleen Connell says the group is exploring legal options, including filing an appeal.
A lawsuit that complained that thousands of mentally Ill people in Illinois are being treated unfairly is about to be settled.
The settlement orders the state to transfer 256 people from larger institutions to smaller homes or apartments over the next year, with nearly 400 more transferred next year. Over the next five years the agreement between the state and the American Civil Liberties Union would affect about 4500 mentally ill Illinoisans.
Diane Zell heads the Champaign chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She says too many people left institutions only to be warehoused in nursing homes not designed to care for them. She fears that the state's economic situation may not mean a smooth transition for many of those people.
"Most poeple who have serious mental illness have not completed their education, and they may not be employed, at least not employed to the extent where they have health insurance," said Zell. "So this is a problem that won't go away."
Nevertheless, advocates of the mentally ill are hailing the agreement as a landmark. The settlement needs a judge's approval and both sides have requested a hearing to consider the specifics of the plan.
Attorneys for Alan Beaman say their federal civil rights suit against McLean County, the Town of Normal, prosecutors and police will hold those public officials accountable for misconduct. The Illinois Supreme court overturned Beaman's murder conviction a year ago in the 1993 death of Jennifer Lockmiller.
Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center says Normal Police Detective Tim Freesemeyer and Assistant States Attorney Jim Souk conspired against Beaman in knowingly not sharing evidence of another suspect and verification of Beaman's alibi....
"They hid that information from Mr. Beaman and his defense lawyers", says Bowman. "That was intentional, it was deliberate, it was knowing"
Jeff Urdangen of Northwestern University Law School says it has always troubled him that as a prosecutor, Souk used the Beaman case to further his career....
"Laminated copies of news clippings, boasting of his success in convicting Alan Beaman, was a part of his most aggressive campaign to gain a judgeship," says Urdangen.
Souk is a circuit judge in McLean County.
Alan Beaman says he wants to make McLean County a more just place. Beaman says he is still processing things and trying to re-create his life, after serving 13 years of a 50 year prison sentence.
"There's a lot from my previous 13 years that don't apply to life now", says Beaman. "And I have to kind of sort through and figure out again who I am. It's a process I enjoy going through. And I'm looking forward to growing as a person."
Beaman, now 37, lives in Rockford. He says he works part time at a theater, about five odd jobs, and does snow removal.
Town of Normal and McLean County officials have declined comment about the federal suit which seeks unspecified damages. Two other pending cases including a petition for clemency and a ruling of wrongful conviction have a damage cap of 200-thousand dollars. The new case has no such limit.
Changes made in the wake of the Kiwane Carrington shooting are now part of the Champaign Police Department's Use of Force policy and procedure. The Champaign City Council endorsed the revisions last (Tuesday) night.
The updated policy now spells out the combination of circumstances that must be in place before an officer may use deadly force on a citizen --- involving cases where a person has harmed, or is threatening to harm the officer or another person, or is threatening to use a deadly weapon to escape.
The police department's Taser policy is also clarified. New language makes it clear that Champaign Police do not use Tasers, but may call in other agencies with Tasers when they feel they are needed. Police Chief R-T Finney says even then, Taser use is limited, according to the situation.
"We had a situation where we needed to use a Taser", says Finney. "(The) agency came; the situation changed in terms of the person who was barricaded was utilizing some volatile chemicals in the house. And we opted not to use the Taser at that point. So, you know, we still have that control."
The changes to police policy come after 15 year old Kiwane Carrington was shot to death during a struggle with a Champaign officer last October. The shooting led to renewed charges that Champaign Police do not treat African-Americans fairly --- and pledges from the city council to improve police/community relations.
The changes were not enough for eight people who addressed the city council last night. They included Terry Townsend, who said the changes were only incremental, and failed to address deeper problems with relations between police and the African-American community.
"It is imperative that we do something to take the confrontational nature out of police community relations" Townsend told the city council. "And having these policies that you just can't make major changes because of constitutional or state law ... that you tweak ... that's not going to make the issue go away."
Some council members said they thought more needed to be done as well. District One Councilman Will Kyles says he saw frustration among both police and community members who did not believe that change was possible.
"That's the root of the problem", said Kyles. "That's what I want to work on --- not just having a discussion, but really helping, not only the community but the officers believe that things are going to change. Because right now, I don't think in my heart that people thing that."
Kyles called for more positive engagement between the Champaign Police Department and the community - including with some of the department's harshest critics.
City Manager Steve Carter said the revisions to the Use Of Force Policy may not address all problems, but were a step forward. Police Chief Finney says he doesn't think the policy needs any further tweaking. He says there are other police policies to address other concerns.
As Champaign City Council members consider changes to the police department's use-of-force policy, an internal review is getting underway into last fall's police shooting death.
15 year old Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed as he and Officer Daniel Norbits were scuffling during a report of a break in at a Vine Street house. Police chief RT Finney had also responded and was slightly injured controlling another juvenile.
Champaign city manager Steve Carter is in charge of the internal investigation - he'll be assisted by two people outside city government - retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County judge John Freese.
Adair says their investigation will review the state police report into the shooting incident but won't change the outcome of that report, which led to a state's attorney's decision not to file charges.
"This is of an internal focus, looking at the training practices of the department and its policies and procedures as it relates to those only," Adair said.
Tomorrow night the Champaign City Council looks at proposed changes to the police department's use of force policy. City officials want to clarify for officers the right times to use lethal force.
The special agent in charge of the Springfield office of the FBI says its investigation into the October fatal police shooting in Champaign could take several weeks - and then it will take more time for federal officials to deliberate over it.
The FBI is looking into the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington at the request of Champaign police. Supervisory special agent Marshall Stone says the scope of their investigation will be different than the state police-led probe that led to no criminal charges against the officers involved.
"In these types of situations, whether we're talking about police-action shootings or color-of-law cases such as excessive use of force based upon the authority we have as law enforcement officers, those tend to fall under the civil rights statutes," said Stone.
Stone says the final decision on any wrongdoing will be left to the Department of Justice in Washington, which will receive the investigation once the FBI office is finished. He says that investigation may involve their own interviews or it could rely on the state police report.
Carrington was shot while police responded to a reported break-in at a Vine Street house. His family has filed a civil suit against police and officer Daniel Norbits, who fired the fatal shot.
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