Illinois Public Media News
State funding problems have prompted two agencies that deal with Champaign County women in crisis to consider consolidating.
A Woman's Fund shelters victims of domestic violence and their children. In July, it and the foundation that funds it expect to be acquired by The Center for Women in Transition, which helps homeless women and children. Last fall A Woman's Fund was almost forced to close when state government payments were backlogged.
But now the group's human resources director, Tara Bossert, says it will be part of a more financially-stable agency, and the merger should be a good fit.
"The services that we provide and the services that the Center for Women in Transition provide are different, yet a lot of our clients overlap and a lot of those clients utilize both services," Bossert said. "So as far as the ease of using those services, we'll just become a better situation for a lot of our clients."
John Sullivan, who directs the Center for Women in Transition, says both agencies serve slightly different purposes, so a consolidation should not lead to job losses.
"The whole goal is to maintain services and make sure domestic violence services remain in our community," said Sullivan. "The staff that are providing those services at the moment, of course we want to keep them on. There may be savings in terms of administration. On the other hand, since we're adding more services, we're going to have to expand our administration."
Still, Sullivan says social service providers in general will see tough times over the next couple of years. He says merger discussions have taken place for about six months, since A Woman's Fund was threatened with the closure.
A Champaign County judge has set bond at $1 million for a Marion County man accused in a collision that killed a Champaign woman.
Circuit Court Judge John Kennedy set bond Friday for 32-year-old Robert Eagan of Salem, who is charged with aggravated driving under the influence, driving under the influence, and driving while his license was revoked. Eagan was arrested after a collision in the central part of Champaign late Thursday night. Urbana Police had tried to stop Eagan at Lincoln and University Avenues, but he didn't stop after reaching city limits. The crash occurred moments later at Springfield and Elm streets. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup has identified the victim as 40-year-old Kimberly Kueffler. Kueffler was driving a vehicle that was hit by a pickup truck. Eagen was being held under suicide watch last night. It was not known if he had an attorney.
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.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is continuing his attacks on the prosecutors who've hit him with corruption charges and says he isn't worried that a federal judge will slap a gag order on the case.
Blagojevich began his offensive Tuesday when he called the prosecutors "cowards and liars.'' He also challenged Chicago's U.S. attorney to meet him face to face in court if he's "man enough.''
On Wednesday, Blagojevich continued his campaign during an appearance on Chicago's WLS Radio. The Democrat accused the government of being "involved in a big cover-up'' and repeated his comments about prosecutors.
Blagojevich also dismissed the possibility that U.S. District Judge James Zagel could order him to stop talking about the case, saying "this is still the United States of America.''
Zagel has scheduled a hearing later in the day to discuss motions being filed in the case.
A set of proposed changes to police policy in Champaign received a guarded welcome from City Council members Tuesday night.
The Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice presented the proposal, with the backing of a few local civic and religious groups.
Peace and Justice member Aaron Ammons says one of the proposals stems directly from last October's fatal shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington during a confrontation with police. The proposals calls for mandatory drug and alcohol testing whenever an officer's weapons is fired, resulting in death or serious injury.
Ammons says such a policy would help the police in their relations with the African-American community.
"Because I know in talking to so many different people", says Ammons, "if they feel like if the same things they are being arrested for and scrutinized for, if our department is asked to go through those same things --- it sort of build a rapport that says, at least they have to go through some of the similar things that we have to go through. And it actually gives the department a leg to stand on."
Another proposal would bring back residency requirements for police officers. Champaign police have not been required to live in Champaign since the 1970s. And a third proposal would make files on police complaints more accessible to the public.
Several council members said the proposals looked promising. But they cautioned that they would be subject to closed-door contract negotiations with the police officer's union. Champaign has begun negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police on a new contract to succeed the one that runs out this summer.
The attorney who helped convict former Illinois Governor George Ryan on corruption charges has his own ideas on ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich's June 3rd trial.
Speaking at the Illinois News Broadcasters Association convention over the weekend in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, former Assistant U-S Attorney Patrick Collins says he thinks the case will likely rise and fall on two factors: the former governor's testimony and the jury selection process. Collins, now in private practice, said boiling the case down to those two factors might sound cynical, in the face of all the taped conversations and other evidence that prosecutors have gathered against Blagojevich. He says that body of evidence certainly looks stronger than the evidence he presented against former Governor George Ryan.
"If someone asked me, would you trade the evidence you had for Ryan with the evidence you've seen in the public domain on Blagojevich? In a heartbeat", said Collins.
But nevertheless, Collins says Blagojevich has a solid case.
"In some respects, because of who he is and how he's played this it may be a little more difficult case than folks are necessarily predicting that this that this is going to be some white wash", said Collins. "I think there's a lot that can happen in a federal court room."
But Collins adds he thinks U-S District Judge James Zagel won't let a circus happen either. Collins says the outcome of the case will rely heavily on the jury selection process and on Blagojevich taking the stand.
The former governor is accused of trying to sell President Barack Obama's old U-S Senate seat. Blagojevich has denied any wrongdoing.
Last week, Zagel ordered a key document be made public against Blagojevich's wishes. The so-called Santiago proffer outlines evidence federal prosecutors plan to present at the trial. The defense had argued the information could sway jurors.
Charges have been dropped against a Champaign teen whose friend was fatally shot in a scuffle with city police last fall.
16-year old Jeshaun Manning-Carter was charged with resisting a peace officer in connection to that confrontation on October 9th. Kiwane Carrington died after being shot in that incident... after a report of a break-in at a home on West Vine Street. Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz says Manning-Carter has upheld his end of the bargain by staying in school, staying out of trouble, and completing a 6-week county-funded counseling program called Parenting with Love and Limits with his mother. Rietz says dropping charges against the youth was not based on an inability to prove them. She says the goal of this case, as with any other in the juvenile justice system, is to set a youth on the right track.
"If he had not finished the program, if he was not going to school, if he was getting in trouble, I would have gone forward with the trial if that was what we needed to do," says Rietz. "This is not a question of whether or not we had the evidence to support the charges. It's simply the standard operating procedure in juvenile court when we're trying to get kids the help that they need." Rietz says counselors maintain contact with the teen's family, and he'll continue to attend the READY school in Champaign.
Rietz concluded in December that Champaign officer Daniel Norbits fired accidentally, and would not face criminal charges from the incident. He remains on paid administrative leave. The results of a city of Champaign investigation into police policy are expected next week. Two experts outside the city... Retired Urbana Police Chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County Judge John Freese are conducting that study, but any changes to policy will be up to City Manager Steve Carter.
A federal judge in Chicago ruled on Friday that the news media will have to wait to see a key document in ex-governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial. But it may not be for long.
Judge James Zagel says the public SHOULD have access to the so-called "Santiago proffer" prosecutors filed this week. But he's giving the defense until Monday to request redactions.
The proffer is essentially a legal battle plan, where the government lays out its testimony, witnesses - even some new evidence. The government filed the proffer under seal, but news outlets moved to have it opened up.
Sheldon Sorosky, the ex-governor's lawyer, says releasing new evidence on the eve of the June trial date could taint potential jurors.
"It releases the government version of what they feel is their best shot", says Sorosky. "And the public just feels that's the official version of events, or the only version of events."
Still, Judge Zagel says "it's conceivable that very little - if anything - will be redacted." He'll make his final decision on Wednesday.
Feedback gathered in a community forum on police-community relations in Champaign is now online at the city's website.
More than 300 people attended the March 15th forum, which city officials organized in the wake of criticism following the shooting death of Africa-American teenager Kiwane Carrington during a scuffle with police.
Comments from each of the forum's discussion table are now in a 43-page report. They include responses to the forum's main questions about police-community relations and how they can be improved.
City Community Relations Specialist Garth Minor says the Community Forum Working Group --- made up of city officials and community members --- will meet Thursday morning to start going over the report, looking for common themes.
"Once we find those themes, then the next step will be to prioritize and develop those themes into action items", says Minor. "This information then will be shared with forum participants for their review and comment. All of that information then will be compiled into a final report that will be presented to the city manager for implementation."
Some of the recurring ideas from the Community Forum included the need for mutual respect between police and young people, and increased contact between police and young people in non-crisis situations.
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