Illinois Public Media News
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.
The Champaign County Coroner's office has released the identity of a woman whose death is being investigated as a murder by the Coroner and Champaign police. But Coroner Duane Northrup is not saying how 58-year old Jean Butler died. She was found dead at her home in the 400 block of East Columbia Avenue yesterday afternoon after suffering what officers describe as 'severe injuries.'
Police were called there around 3:30 yesterday after a report of a fight between two men outside the home - a fight believed to have broken out after Butler's death. 54-year old Maury Butler was arrested, and charged with first degree murder. An autopsy on Jean Butler is scheduled for Saturday. An inquest may be held at a later date.
An internal City of Champaign investigation into a fatal police shooting last fall is winding down.
City attorney Fred Stavins says the two outside experts the city asked to conduct the study have completed much of their work looking into last October's shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington. Police say they confronted Carrington and another teenager as the two were trying to get into an acquaintance's home on Vine Street - an officer's firearm went off and hit Carrington during a scuffle.
Stavins says retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County Judge John Freese continue to meet, but their fact-finding portion of the review is generally complete - and he says that's only one segment of the overall investigation.
"There's been an internal investigation that involves police personnel", says Stavins. "And subsequent to that, there'll be another review by another group in the police department --- the Firearm Discharge Board."
Stavins says any ultimate changes to police policy or other outcomes of the report will be up to City Manager Steve Carter. He says the goal is to determine whether the Carrington incident should lead to changes in policy. But Stavins says it will not second-guess a state police investigation that cleared Chief RT Finney and Officer Daniel Norbits of criminal wrongdoing. Carrington's aunt has filed a wrongful -death lawsuit against the officers and the city.
A McLean County judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Urbana School District against a Normal-based district over a former teacher now imprisoned for child molestation.
In dismissing the lawsuit Tuesday, Judge Scott Drazewski said Unit 5 was immune from the civil action because it is a public body, and also said Urbana District 116 missed the legal deadline for filing.
The Urbana district was seeking $1 million, saying it wanted the money to help cover the $2 million it paid to settle claims filed by nine girls molested there by teacher Jon White after he left McLean County. Urbana officials say Unit 5 failed to disclose that White had been forced to resign.
White is serving 60 years in prison for molesting two girls in Unit 5 and the nine in Urbana.
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