Illinois Public Media News
Federal officials tried Tuesday to allay fears that moving terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois could make the state a terrorist target.
The director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin, told a legislative panel at a public hearing in Sterling that Thomson would be the most secure of all federal prisons in the country.
Other testimony on the plan to bring terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the Thomson Correctional Center appeared evenly split between supporters and critics.
Several conservative opponents of the plan were among the last to testify at a high school auditorium near the Thomson Correctional Center as the hearing ran late into the night Tuesday.
Denise Cattoni of the Illinois TEA Party organization told the panel that Americans aren't being told enough about the implications of any such transfer.
Cattoni said they merely woke up one morning and were told "Gitmo was moving to Illinois.''
But a series of leaders from communities in and near Thomson told the panel their constituents are clamoring for the kind of economic boost a fully open Thomson prison would provide.
Governor Pat Quinn plans to sell Thomson to the federal government to house detainees and for a maximum-security federal prison, and the public hearing probably will not change that. The 12-member Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability could vote on a recommendation to sell Thomson, but Quinn does not have to follow the recommendation.
The hearing adjourned at 9 p.m., and the commission said it would not vote on the proposal before Jan. 14.
Champaign police say a gambling operation broken up by officers last week had been going on for nearly four months.
Deputy Chief John Murphy says the two Champaign men arrested Thursday, December 17th on charges of Gambling and Keeping a Gambling Place had rented out a storage unit in the 600 block of Ashford Court, furnishing it with heating and air conditioning, gaming equipment and selling food. And Murphy says 43-year old Jeffrey Wingo and 30-year old Brandyn Odell were charging $50 admission for players when police executed a search warrant that evening. Those two men and 18 others were issued notices to appear in court for Gambling-Betting or Wagering. And Murphy says the large amounts of potential winnings for players brought in many from outside the area. "Some of them had addresses as far away as Wilmette and Bloomington, and so there were people that were making a concerted effort to participate in the games," says Murphy. "They had dry erase boards up that had the dollar equivalent for each color chip, and based on what we saw there, it was certainly possible for thousands of dollars to end up on the table at any one time."
Murphy says anywhere from 20 to 50 people would show up the alleged poker games on a given night. He says Champaign Police were tipped off by a family member of someone who frequently joined the games. Wingo and Odell are expected to make their first court appearances next month.
Opponents and supporters of a plan to move up to 100 alleged terrorists to Illinois from Guantanamo Bay are preparing to address the first state legislative hearing on the issue.
Around 50 people are scheduled to testify at Tuesday's hearing before the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
They include labor union officials who say selling the Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government to house detainees will create hundreds of jobs.
Opponents scheduled to speak include conservative activist Beverly Perlson. She says U.S. Naval detention center in Cuba has worked well and that there's no good reason to bring prisoners to the small northwestern Illinois community.
The hearing is at a high school auditorium in Sterling, which is southeast of Thomson.
Governor Pat Quinn admits to knowing about a Department of Corrections program that released violent criminals who'd spent little time in prison. But he says he's ordered a "top to bottom" review to ensure public safety.
Quinn suspended the program over the weekend after reading an Associated Press article. It detailed how about 850 inmates ... some repeat drunk drivers, others serving sentences for weapons or battery violations ... were released after serving only weeks behind bars.
They got out for earning good behavior credits. Their speedy release was made possible because the Corrections Department had dropped a standing policy that required all inmates serve at least 61 days.
Quinn says he knew about Corrections Director Michael Randle's plan. He says so did others. Quinn says it wasn't a secret.
"Now, the execution, implementation of the plan, I've suspended the plan, because I want to review it and make sure it's working the way it should work for public safety", said Quinn.
Quinn wouldn't say if he knew violent offenders would be included.
Illinois' prison system began releasing prisoners early to save money. Quinn says the system is expensive, and there has to be a balance between safety, and saving money.
The governor says he'll talk more about the issue "very soon." His Democratic challenger for the governor's seat, Comptroller Dan Hynes, says the whole affair demonstrates Quinn's poor leadership.
No one was hurt, but a bank robbery in the heart of Monticello Wednesday caused a stir and led to a soft lockdown for school students.
Administrators decided to keep students inside the buildings for the rest of the school day after a man carrying a semi-automatic pistol held up the First State Bank on the town square. Police Chief John Miller says bank robberies are rare-to-non-existent in his town.
"I talked to a bank employee who's been there for over 44 years, and they don't ever recall the bank being robbed", says Miller. "And someone mentioned that they thought that 65 or so years ago, someone had robbed a bank here in Monticello, but it's been a long time."
Miller describes the suspect as a heavy set white male, about five-feet-nine with olive khaki pants and a large blue hooded sweatshirt, wearing a black covering over his face. No one has been arrested yet. Miller won't say how much money the man got away with when he ran from the bank.
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.
Illinois State Police are investigating circumstances involving a southern Illinois prison inmate taking an employee hostage before the prisoner was shot and killed by authorities.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has not yet publicly identified the 37-year-old inmate involved in Monday's nearly seven-hour standoff at the 2,200-inmate Pinckneyville Correctional Center.
The 62-year-old female employee who was taken hostage was rescued and evaluated by medical personnel. Her medical status was not immediately clear.
Messages left Tuesday with a Corrections spokeswoman weren't immediately returned.
Corrections officials say the offender was serving a sentence for aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping. The crimes took place in Cook County.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn would not say if he knew beforehand his administration was releasing inmates after they served just weeks in prison. Quinn suspended the program over the weekend after a report by The Associated Press some inmates served less than three weeks behind bars. Quinn said Monday that Corrections Department Director Michael Randle has broad discretion to run his department. He added if there are questions about how something is being done it's the governor's job to review it. After he learned about everything in the AP report, Quinn said he decided a closer look was needed. The suspended program gave inmates good conduct credit in advance. Corrections officials say the department was saving money in a budget crisis by not transferring the inmates to other prisons for short terms.
The FBI will be brought in to have a separate look at what occurred in Champaign on the day that Kiwane Carrington was fatally shot.
City Police Chief R.T. Finney says he wants a fresh set of eyes from outside Champaign County to have a look at State Police reports concerning the confrontation and scuffle with police on October 9th that resulted in the 15-year old's death. This federal investigation would not review the decision by Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz, who determined this week that no charges would be filed locally against officer Daniel Norbits.
Finney says this separate investigation could result in federal civil rights or criminal violations. Finney notes this request comes after groups like CU Citizens for Peace and Justice were critical of the handling of the Carrington case and its result. "The FBI in some situations could prompt an investigation themselves. They did not do that," says Finney. "The investigation could be prompted by somone in community. That wasn't done. And so I determined I would do that myself and initiate this investigation to hoepfully appease some of the critics who are indicating this is not a fair investigation." Finney says a civil rights violation could result in civil penalties, like a consent decree concerning police policies. Finney says the Department of Justice could produce ideas similar to what's being suggested by Champaign city leaders in the wake of the Carrington shooting, like the hiring of more minority police officers.
Finney says there's no telling how long the FBI could take to review the case.
The state's attorney's decision not to file charges in the Kiwane Carrington shooting did not satisfy people who spoke on the subject at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting. And the city's handling of the case also came in for criticism.
Pledges by Champaign officials to look at ways to improve relations between police and African-American youth were not enough for Champaign County Board member Carol Ammons, whose district includes much of northern Champaign. She called Tuesday's news conference by city officials a well-crafted piece of public relations, in which no one took questions from the public.
"I suggest that if you want to move forward", said Ammons, "beyond providing social service programs, recreation and basketball, that you would decide that you start with allowing yourselves to be interrogated by the community that has hundreds of questions surrounding this death."
Ammons also cited emails obtained by C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice through a Freedom of Information Act request, which she says gives the impression that the investigation was tainted by interference from city officials, including council members Will Kyles, Marci Dodds and Deb Feinen. In the last case, Ammons said Feinen corresponded with State's Attorney Julia Rietz on the case while the investigation was ongoing.
When asked about Ammons' charge, Feinen denied that her correspondence tainted the investigation. She said she only forwarded mass emails to Rietz that publicized rallies or contained criticisms of the Carrington shooting, and did not add any substantial comments.
"I don't have any information", said Feinen. "I wasn't at the scene. I didn't interview any witnesses. I haven't talked to any witnesses. So I don't know how that's interference with the investigation."
Urbana resident Elizabeth Simpson says the death of Kiwane Carrington has had a negative impact on how young people in both Champaign and Urbana regard the police and other authority figures. Simpson coordinates the peer mediation program at Urbana Middle School. And she told council members her students are asking her about the city's handling of the Carrington shooting.
"They say, 'Miss Beth, we don't understand, why aren't they saying they're sorry? Why won't they even say they're sorry? Whether it was an accident, whatever degree of responsibility it was, why won't anybody take responsibility?'" said Simpson. "And they mean you, too. They mean the police, but they mean you, too."
Simpson says she had not known until the hearing about it at the council meeting that there was any sort of apology from a city official. Earlier in the day, Police Chief R-T Finney said he wanted to "express my sincere condolences and sorrow to the Carrington family". And he said that while the Officer Daniel Norbits did not intend for his gun to go off, killing Carrington, "make no mistake the weapon was ours, it was discharged and I am ultimately responsible for the actions of our police officers."
Members of Kiwane Carrington's family also attended the city council meeting, but did not speak. Afterwards, Rhonda Williams, Kiwane's aunt, said she had already commented enough.
Champaign council members made no public comment following the remarks from the public, and left the chamber to go into closed session over a matter of potential litigation.
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