Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

Champaign City Council Hears from Police Supporters, Critics

It has been a little more than a week since the arrest of 18-year-old Calvin Miller.

Members of the community allege Miller was beaten up by Champaign police. The incident has sparked a debate over police-community relations.

On Tuesday night, supporters and critics of the police department spoke before the Champaign City Council. Nearly 50 people addressed the council within a three and a half hour period. In fact, the council's chambers were so packed that some people had to wait outside until there was enough room.

Jonathon Westfield is a school resource officer with the Champaign Police Department. Westfield, who is African American, said he was taken aback by accusations about animosity between the police department and the black community.

"Crime is universal," he said. "It does not know any age, any sex, any color, any creed. I take great pride in working for the city of Champaign, being a police officer, and I trust in your judgment as elected officials of this community, we cannot address this issue so long as we separate the police from the community."

But other people who spoke, like University of Illinois history professor Sundiata Cha-Jua, had critical things to say about the police department.

"We need a type of policing where the police are on bikes or on foot where they interact with residents, where they build relationships," Cha-Jua said. "Not where they do this 'problem solving' or 'problem centered' type of policing where they roll down on black youth and mass. We need a humane form of policing."

Byron Clark, another critic of the police department, said he would like to see more transparency in the Champaign Police Department.

"The problem is that there is no accountability within the police department," Clark said. "They don't have the ability to police themselves."

A video released this week from multiple police car dash board cameras shows Calvin Miller trying to avoid police, who were after him for driving through a red light and swerving into traffic. Miller then jumps out of his van, and tries to run away.

Calvin Miller's father, Martel, stated at the meeting that his son ran from police because he was scared.

"I don't tell no kids to run from the police," Miller said. "My son was so scared he drove by his house."

After Miller ran, officers chased after him. The police department has maintained that Miller was struck with an police officer's hand and pepper sprayed after trying to reach for an officer's duty belt. However, other people claim the teen was struck repeatedly and hit with a baton. That part wasn't documented on video.

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said people need to have a better understanding of how to respond when they are confronted by a police officer. He said that is a large part of improving police-community relations.

"You know, there are a lot of people with a lot of strong feelings on this," Finney said. "You know, community relations are an ongoing issue, and we continue and the city continues to build upon that."

The Champaign City Council is exploring the prospect of creating a citizen police review board, which would oversee complaints directed at the police department. Council member Karen Foster said she is open to that idea, but she said she'd rather first explore other solutions to resolve communication issues that exist between the police department and the rest of the community.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 01, 2011

Jury Convicts Powerbroker William Cellini

A federal jury found William Cellini guilty Tuesday of joining a conspiracy to trade state contracts for campaign contributions for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The conviction is the latest in the long-running investigation into the Blagojevich administration, and it's likely one of the last trials in "Operation Board Games," marking the end of an era of political scandal in Illinois.

The jury found Cellini guilty of two of four counts, including:

Count 2 - Conspiracy to Extort - Cellini knowingly joined a conspiracy - He knew what Rezko and Kelly were about and he didn't walk away and he knew they were trading state contracts for campaign contributions to Blagojevich.

Count 4 - Aiding and Abetting Bribery - Cellini knowingly aided and abetted an agent of a state agency (Levine in his role as a TRS trustee) in corruptly soliciting something of value in connection to official state action.

However, the jury found Cellini not guilty of two other counts, including:

Count 1 - Conspiracy to defraud - Defendant knowingly joined a conspiracy to use Levine's role as a public official to defraud the people of Illinois, specifically the teachers who entrusted Levine to act with their best interests at heart.

Count 3 - Attempted Extortion - Cellini knowingly attempted, with Levine, to get money from Rosenberg. They threatened to hold back Rosenberg's $220 million allocation believing that that would force Rosenberg to pay the bribe. This count also requires that the extortion could have potentially affected interstate commerce which it would have as the $220 million would have been invested in companies nationwide.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the conviction sends a message to people trying to make backroom deals in Illinois.

"I think people ought to understand that as a result of 'Operation Board Games' we can not only convict the governor, but convict Ed Vrdolyac and convict Bill Cellini. It sends a message that federal law enforcement will work together as partners and investigate vigorously and will bring charges as appropriate," Fitzgerald said.

Cellini's attorney Dan Webb said the jurors threw out what he called the most serious charges against his client.

"The conspiracy to commit extortion which could very well be one act on his part, but whatever it was, it didn't even rise to the level of being attempted extortion. And I'm grateful for that result from the jury," Webb said.

Webb plans to file an appeal.

The investigation into the Blagojevich administration began because Stuart Levine was using his power as a trustee on the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board to try and squeeze bribes out of hospital administrators who had matters before the board. When Levine's activity was reported, the FBI put a wiretap on his phones and Cellini had the misfortune of being in contact with Levine at that time.

Cellini was charged in connection to Levine's work on another board, the Teacher's Retirement System, the board that pays out teacher pensions and collects and invests the money. Cellini had won a contract to invest $220 million dollars for the fund, and prosecutors say, in an attempt to keep the contracts coming, he sought to curry favor with the new administration which meant doing business with Stuart Levine, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.

From the tapes, it seems clear that Cellini knew what Rezko and Kelly were about. In a May 8, 2004 phone call Cellini tells Levine about a contractor he knows who does work for the state.

CELLINI: He's talkin' about these guys Tony and Chris because they are out uh, according to him...essentially hammerin' people for contracts uh, with with contracts for fundraising.

LEVINE: Mm hm.

CELLINI: And, and I gotta tell you I'm a nervous wreck over it myself.

LEVINE: You think they are?

CELLINI: Oh, oh...

LEVINE: Oh you know they are?

CELLINI: I know they are.

In that same call, Levine lays it out pretty clearly for Cellini that they're trading contracts for contributions. Levine and Cellini are discussing Tom Rosenberg who is refusing to give a contribution even though he's got $220 million hanging in the balance. Levine has put a hold on that business hoping to get a bribe but Rosenberg threatened to go to federal authorities.

"The way I think that this should be handled is that they shouldn't take a political contribution from him and he shouldn't get an allocation," Levine said on the FBI recording.

Cellini counsels Levine to take a middle road. He says TRS should give Rosenberg a small allocation, something like $25 million because he won't be able to publicly complain about that. On the tape Cellini laughs, and in her closing argument, Assistant United States Attorney Julie Porter told jurors that that was the sound of corruption.

Cellini does seem worried about the way Rezko and Kelly do business but prosecutors say he had a choice. He could have walked away but he didn't want to lose his clout.

"It may be that there is nobody checking yet," Cellini is heard saying on FBI recordings. "That there is nobody investigating what they're doing yet, but there's so much going on that there's no question that it will happen because too many people are talking about how you get things done."

Cellini tells Levine that he recently had to counsel Chris Kelly who was distraught about a newspaper article. Cellini says he told Kelly that the scrutiny would only increase.

"If somebody comes in with badges and flashes them at you and in the course of the conversation says do you know Bill Cellini, just know before they ask that question that they have already checked all your phone logs and they know that we have talked on the phone, that we have called each other 4,700 times so you can't say, oh, I've heard of him, or I barely know him because they know that we've called, talked back and forth," Cellini said.

Cellini is the last Blagojevich co-defendant to stand trial. Blagojevich staffers John Harris and Lon Monk both pleaded guilty and testified against the former governor. Chris Kelly committed suicide. Robert Blagojevich was tried but prosecutors dropped the charges after the jury was split on his guilt. No sentencing date has been set for the former governor.

Tony Rezko, the brains behind corruption in the Blagojevich administration, is scheduled to be sentenced November 22.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 31, 2011

Champaign Police Release Calvin Miller Video

The Champaign Police Department has released a two-hour video from the high-speed traffic pursuit and arrest of 18-year-old Calvin Miller on Oct. 24, 2011,

Police say the only thing edited out of the video is Miller stating his social security number for police. The footage comes from several different police car dash cameras that show multiple angles of the pursuit. It starts off with police tailing Miller's van for about two minutes until the teen's vehicle stops in front of a house.

Police say the van destroyed the front porch of a home. Miller then jumped out of the vehicle on the intersection of Greenbrier and Arcadia and fled from the van, out of camera range. Within a few seconds, microphones attached to police officers' uniforms picked up the sound of Miller evidently being subdued.

OFFICER: Get your hands right here. Don't spit on any one of us. MILLER: I'm not going to spit on you officer ...if you could just give me some water. OFFICER: We don't have any water. MILLER: Officer, please....officer please. OFFICER: We don't have any water with us. MILLER: OK. OFFICER: Stand still.

After the confrontation, one of the officers on the scene asked Miller why he ran.

"He just told me to," Miller replied.

It is not clear from the audio who 'he' refers to or whether Miller reached for the officer's duty belt as police have claimed. Calvin's father, Martel Miller, has said that he never told his son to run from police. Speaking to other media outlets after the release of the video, Miller admits his son broke traffic rules, but contends that he shouldn't have been beaten by police officers.

Another thing that is not clear is how Miller was subdued. Police say Miller was pepper sprayed and struck with an officer's hand. The teen's father has said his son was sprayed with mace, struck repeatedly on the face, head and ankle, and hit with a baton.

Both police and Miller supporters are expected to address the issue at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting, which starts at 7pm at the City Building.

Tags: crime, people

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 28, 2011

Champaign Police Union Responds to Outcry Over Arrest

Champaign's Police union says some members of the community are rushing to judgment on this week's arrest of 18-year old Calvin Miller.

In a press release issued by the state's Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, the union mentions the events of Monday's early morning hours, when police say the teen ran red lights, ran over a curb, and his van struck the front of a house after exiting the vehicle. Miller then reportedly ran on foot, and struggled with police before the arrest. The incident has led to angry comments from local activists, including Martel Miller, the teen's father, who claims police beat the teen repeatedly.

The FOP says it's encouraging all citizens of the city, and especially elected officials, to withhold judgment until all of the facts and circumstances have been released. The union says it's 'confident they will demonstrate that use of force was appropriate and reasonable under both department policy and the law.'

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says officials with his department will likely address the city council on Tuesday night.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 28, 2011

New Records Show More Restaurant Inspection Failures

New Records Show More Restaurant Inspection Failures

(Reported by Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess)

When public health officials conducted a routine inspection of Quizno's in Urbana last month, they discovered 12 critical health-code violations.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 28, 2011

California Seeks Death for Chicago Serial Killer

When Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in the state earlier this year, it spared the lives of 15 men on death row.

But one of them may not be off the hook.

Andrew Urdiales, 47, a former U.S. Marine, could be put to death if he is found guilty in the deaths of five women in Southern California.

The Orange County District Attorney's office announced this week that it will seek the death penalty against Urdiales if he's convicted in the murders.

"We will be seeking the death penalty for the crimes that he committed in California," according to Howard Gundy, senior deputy district attorney for the Orange County D.A.'s office. "The factors of aggravation, which would call for the stiffest penalty, far outweigh any of the factors in mitigation."

Urdiales is now awaiting trial in Orange County for the deaths.

He was extradited from the Pontiac Correctional Facility in Pontiac, Illinois in late September.

At Pontiac, Urdiales had been on death row for the murders of Laura Uylaki, 25, of Hammond, Ind., and Lynn Huber, 22, of Chicago.

Their bodies were dumped near Wolf Lake which straddles the Illinois-Indiana state line near Hammond.

In 2004, Urdiales was sentenced to death again for the 1996 murder of Cassandra "Cassie" Corum, 21, of Hammond.

Prosecutors say Urdiales dumped her body in the Vermilion River in Pontiac.

But the change in Illinois law in March abolishing the death penalty commuted Urdiales' sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

Urdiales will be arraigned in Orange County on Dec. 1for the additional five homicides. Of the five homicides, three took place in Riverside County, one in San Diego County, and one in Orange County.

Gundy said it was decided to consolidate the five cases with the trial happening in Orange County.

Prosecutors say the killing started back in 1984 when Urdiales was a 19-year-old Marine stationed in Southern California until his discharge in 1991. That's when he returned to the South Chicago neighborhood where he grew up.

Four of the five California victims are described as prostitutes ranging in age from 21 to 32.

His first California victim was 23-year-old Robbin Brandley who had been volunteering as an usher at a concert. Prosecutors say Urdiales wanted to kill a random person so he sought Brandley out following the concert and as she walked to her car. He's alleged to have stabbed her 41 times with a six-inch hunting blade.

The case was cracked open in November 1996 when Urdiales was arrested by police in Hammond, Ind., for loitering in his truck near an area known for prostitutes. Police confiscated a handgun which he was not licensed to carry.

Ballistic testing in April 1997 by Illinois police found the gun confiscated by Urdiales was the same firearm used to shoot and murder three of the victims.

Urdialeswas soon after arrested for the three murders.

(AP Photo/Illinois Department of Corrections, File)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 28, 2011

Miller Refutes Police Account of Son’s Alleged Beating

Critics of the Champaign Police Department are expressing outrage, and a differing account of the arrest of an African-American teen last weekend, that they say involved excessive use of force.

Police say Calvin Miller ran a red light and swerved into traffic to avoid police on Monday at around 1:30 am, and then at one point, jumped from a moving van, which hit the front of the house. Police say Miller then reached for the officer's duty belt, and the officer struck him with his hand.

"It's a situation that could have been resolved very, very minimal with the officer stopping, the potential for a ticket, and the offender going on," Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney told WDWS radio. "We don't make the decision for people to run....if you run from the police, not only is it illegal, but it's going to have some dire consequences."

Responding to the police department's account of what happened, Calvin's father, Martel Miller claims police rammed into his son's car, and then maced him with pepper spray, struck him repeatedly on the face, head and ankle, and hit him with a baton.

"This is part of racial profiling," Miller told a crowd Thursday outside of the Champaign Police Department. "What I want you all to understand is abuse with black young men has been going on for too long, and it's by this department."

The incident comes two years after the police shooting death of teenager Kiwane Carrington.

Miller said he hasn't yet filed a formal complaint against the police department. In the last few days, there has been flurry of outrage over the alleged police beating of his son, and there are calls for major changes in the police department. Aaron Ammons, the co-founder of C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, said there is no reason Miller should have been struck in the first place.

"We're asking for and demanding that these officers be removed, those who have been problems throughout the community ongoing that they can be removed and that new officers are brought in," Ammons said. "And bring more African American and people of color officers into this department who live here, who know the community, and who have a stake in the community."

Finney said the case will be reviewed to determine if there was excessive force used. Finney noted that officials with his department will likely address the city council on Tuesday night. Critics of the police department are expected to do the same. The Champaign City Council plans to discuss a proposal for a citizens police review board later this fall. That proposal was brought up last week, before the Calvin Miller arrest.

"Certainly the officers had every reason to get him into custody, and protect themselves in that backyard, and I think that's what they did," Finney said, adding that there wasn't anything he believed the police officers could have done in the situation.

At Thursday's demonstration outside of the Champaign Police Department, 30-year-old Gary McFarland of Champaign came forward. He said at the start of October, a Champaign police officer hit him as he was trying to enter his home.

McFarland said that incident resulted in his jaw having to be wired shut: "He never asked my name. He never asked for my ID. He never searched me. I could have been anybody."

A review of court records show McFarland was charged with resisting a police officer and criminal trespassing on Oct. 3, 2011.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 28, 2011

Robert Blagojevich: ‘Unanswered Questions’  Regarding US Rep. Jackson

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's brother wants to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Ethics investigating whether an Illinois congressman sought to raise money for Blagojevich for an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

Robert Blagojevich told Thursday''s Chicago Sun-Times he's written to committee members offering testimony about Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr.

Rod Blagojevich was convicted of trying to sell Obama's seat. Related charges Robert once faced were dropped. Trial witnesses alleged Jackson supporters offered fundraising for the governor if Jackson became senator.

Jackson's denied wrongdoing and hasn't been charged. He testified at Blagojevich's retrial that he's "never directed anyone to raise money for another politician.'' His spokesman declined comment yesterday.

But Robert Blagojevich says "there are a lot of unanswered questions (Jackson) should be required to answer.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 27, 2011

Ill. Commission Votes to Block Facility Closures

A bipartisan legislative commission is rejecting Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to close three social-service facilities and a youth prison.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability cast advisory votes Thursday against closing a juvenile detention center in Murphysboro, a developmental center in Dixon and mental health hospitals in Rockford and Chester.

Quinn announced last month he needs to close seven facilities and lay off nearly 2,000 employees because of budget shortfalls.

A spokeswoman says Quinn has no choice but to shut the facilities unless the Legislature appropriates more money.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees opposes the closures. Executive Director Henry Bayer says the votes indicate lawmakers believe the facilities are necessary. The commission has yet to vote on closing facilities in Lincoln, Jacksonville and Tinley Park.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 27, 2011

Man Thought to be Gacy Victim, Found Living in Florida

A man thought to have been a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy has been discovered living in Florida.

After the Cook County Sheriff exhumed remains of eight Gacy victims, the family of Harold Wayne Lovell came forward in an effort to find a match. Instead, they discovered that Lovell had been living in Florida all along. He'd vanished from Aurora in 1977 and had some trouble with the police along the way. Sheriff Tom Dart said the family was convinced Lovell was a victim based on a piece of jewelry found at Gacy's house. But they had no dental records to make a comparison at the time.

Lovell, now 53, has been reunited with his family.

Sheriff Dart said investigations have become more accurate over the past couple of decades.

"Back in the late 70s and prior to that, the way that missing persons were handled as a whole was not very scientific at all. And so people that had concerns back then, now would be the time whether or not they thought they were involved in the Gacy case or not. Come forward and have your DNA submitted," Dart said.

Dart said more than 120 families have come forward to see if their loved one is possibly among the victims. Results could be revealed in two to three weeks.

Gacy was convicted of murdering 33 men and boys in the 1970s. He was executed in 1994.


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