Illinois Public Media News
Indiana's decision to essentially police itself as it investigates a fatal stage collapse at the state fair is raising questions about how objective the probe will be.
Workplace safety agencies, state police and fair officials are looking into Saturday's collapse that killed five people and injured dozens more. All are under the jurisdiction of the state, which also put on the fair. The lone outside agency brought in so far is an engineering firm hired by the Indiana State Fair Commission, raising questions about its independence.
Other states in similar positions have formed special commissions with outside experts to handle investigations, including of a bonfire collapse at Texas A&M University and the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels so far hasn't mentioned the idea, and instead has repeatedly referred to the wind gust that toppled the stage but spared other nearby structures as a freak occurrence that couldn't have been anticipated.
"The fair has an interest in protecting itself," attorney Jerry Miniard of Erlanger, Ky., who is representing an injured girl, said Thursday. "Why in the world would you let someone who may be responsible investigate themselves?"
Miniard said he is a friend of the father of 10-year-old Jade Walcott, whose skull was crushed by the falling stage. He questioned how thorough the probe will be given that it's nearly all being done in-house.
"The state of Indiana is basically investigating itself," he said.
Judy Nadler, a former mayor of Santa Clara, Calif., who is a senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said that could be a mistake.
"There's this sort of automatic default to say, we have people here internally who can take a look at this ... but for something so closely affiliated with the state, it would be wise to call upon someone who doesn't have any even perceived conflict of interest," Nadler said. She suggested bringing in someone from outside the state, perhaps even an outside regulator.
"I think it really is such a significant event ... it requires a level of independence to fully discern the facts and to fully convey to the public that this was a fair and thorough and impartial and nonpolitical look at what happened," she said.
State fair officials did announce this week that they had hired New York engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti Inc. to review the stage's design and construction, but Miniard questioned how far-ranging that probe might be since the state will determine the scope of the investigation.
"The state of Indiana is in complete control over the investigation," Miniard said. "And the state's interests are possibly different than those people who were injured or killed."
Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other agencies conducting their own investigations will all report to the fair commission. "I am quite sure that everybody is going to be satisfied with the thoroughness of this investigation," he said. "And nobody wants the answers more than us."
Attention also has centered on how fair officials reacted to worsening weather conditions, telling the audience minutes before a 60 to 70 mph wind gust brought the stage down onto the crowd that the show would likely go on - without mentioning that the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning. But it isn't clear which, if any, agency was investigating that aspect of the crisis.
"I don't know who that falls under, but absolutely, that's going to be part of it," said Klotz.
In other states and even in Indiana, officials sometimes have avoided any appearance of conflict of interest by bringing in outside investigators. After a 1999 bonfire collapse that killed 12 people at Texas A&M University, school officials appointed a five-person commission whose members had no direct ties to the university to investigate the tragedy. The University of Notre Dame conducted its own investigation into the death of a student killed last year when the hydraulic lift he was on fell over in high winds as he filmed football practice. But it hired Peter Likins, an engineer and the former president of the University of Arizona, to provide an independent review of its investigation.
Others have gone even further. After an explosion killed 29 men last year in the Upper Big Branch mine near Montcoal, W.Va., the state's governor asked a former top federal mine regulator to investigate the accident. And Colorado's governor appointed an independent commission to investigate the 1999 Columbine High School shootings.
A spokeswoman for Daniels didn't immediately return phone calls about whether he had considered such an option.
Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said there was ultimately no way to avoid outside investigations of an accident like the state fair stage collapse because there were bound to be lawsuits by victims and their families.
"In a sense, the lawsuit is the outside investigation," Stern said.
Miniard said he was sending a letter to Daniels asking him to issue an executive order securing the stage so that the victims can conduct their own investigations into the accident, though he said it was too early to gauge the likelihood of a lawsuit without a better understanding of what happened.
In other cases, he said, families have had to seek restraining orders to compel officials to preserve evidence. Miniard said he had called and written to state police, the state fire marshal and fair officials with his request and received no response.
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
A former Chicago police commander imprisoned for lying about the torture of suspects decades ago is still costing the cash-strapped city money.
That's because Chicago is defending itself and former police Lt. Jon Burge against civil lawsuits from men who claim Burge and his men beat, suffocated and shocked confessions out of them.
Six lawsuits are pending that accuse Chicago officers of torturing suspects _ almost all of them black or Latino_ into giving confessions from the 1970s to the 1990s.
The city's stance has long been that it would defend itself vigorously against any such lawsuits. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times for a story published Tuesday that he's working toward settling them.
Burge-related cases already have cost the city an estimated $43 million.
A convicted influence peddler remains on track to be sentenced weeks after his one-time benefactor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Prosecutors said at a status hearing Tuesday that they want to stick with an Oct. 21 sentencing date for Tony Rezko.
The government has portrayed Rezko as the ultimate insider who pulled strings in Blagojevich's administration.
A jury convicted Rezko in 2008 of squeezing kickbacks from businessmen eager to land state contracts.
The 56-year-old appeared at Tuesday's hearing in jail clothes and chains binding his ankles. He smiled weakly and waived at relatives on courtroom benches.
Jurors convicted Blagojevich for corruption in June. His sentencing date is Oct. 6.
Rezko's sentencing was repeatedly delayed to leave the possibility he could testify at Blagojevich's trial. But the government never called him.
A new online database lets people to see who has outstanding warrants in Cook County.
Sheriff Tom Dart said there are about 44,000 people in Cook County who have outstanding warrants. The new online database, he hopes, will help the office get some tips on the whereabouts of those people.
"This has a way of really flushing out the system, as well, and really doing a lot of very positive things because there's nothing good with having this many warrants in the system," Dart told reporters Friday.
Dart said about a third of the warrants outstanding are for traffic offenses and about 13,000 are for drug or theft charges.
The majority are not wanted for violent crimes, Dart said.
"There is a hope that there will be quite a few people who'll go to this website just, frankly, to check, maybe, theirself (sic) out," he said.
The sheriff said he's putting together a 500 most wanted list for the website, as well.
Attorneys for torture victims of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge are trying to put some political pressure on the Illinois Supreme Court.
Their attorneys are planning to file a brief Wednesday morning in the case of Stanley Wrice. Former Illinois U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson and former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson are joining congressmen, aldermen and prominent attorneys in signing the document that asks the Supreme Court to order a review of the Wrice case, and the cases of 14 other alleged torture victims who are still in prison.
Wrice says in 1982 he was beaten by police under former commander Jon Burge until he confessed to a brutal rape. He raised the issue in court in 1983 but the officers testified they didn't beat him and the courts ruled against Wrice.
But now there is a long string of evidence - including Burge's conviction - to show that torture did occur, giving Wrice's claims added weight they didn't have 30 years ago. Attorneys aren't asking for Wrice to be freed, but they do want all Burge torture victims to have new hearings in light of all the new evidence regarding police torture.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
A nine-year legal fight by a man sexually abused by a priest in the 1970s is over, now that a southern Illinois diocese and its insurer have handed over $6.3 million to resolve a jury award in the man's favor.
Attorneys for the Diocese of Belleville turned over the checks during a hearing Wednesday in St. Clair County, three years after James Wisniewski of Champaign won the $5 million jury award. The additional $1.33 million includes interest since that verdict.
Wisniewski sued in 2002, alleging that a former priest sexually abused him dozens of times for five years at St. Theresa's Parish in Salem. The lawsuit also claimed the diocese hid the one-time priest's suspected behavior and quietly shuffled him among parishes.
The diocese's attorneys declined comment.
Former University of Illinois basketball player Jereme Richmond faces battery and weapons charges.
The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reports Richmond, of Waukegan, was arrested Monday after police say he shoved a 17-year-old girlfriend and threatened to shoot her outside her house. Police drove up as 19-year-old Richmond searched for something in a car while another man waited. Police found a gun in the car.
Richmond is charged with aggravated battery, aggravated unlawful use of weapons, domestic battery and other charges. Lake County court officials say he hasn't entered a plea and doesn't yet have an attorney.
Richmond was heavily recruited but spent one season at Illinois. He played sparingly and was benched for off-court issues before leaving for the NBA draft. He wasn't drafted.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
A federal appeals court says two Americans who worked for an Iraqi contracting firm can move forward with a lawsuit that accuses former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of being responsible for U.S. forces allegedly torturing them.
The ruling Monday from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago rejects arguments that Rumsfeld should be immune from such lawsuits for work performed as a Cabinet secretary.
Chicagoan Donald Vance and his colleague Nathan Ertel claim they were each tortured in 2006 after blowing the whistle on alleged illegal activities by the contracting company that employed them. Vance, a Navy veteran, claims he and Ertel were forcibly detained for weeks at Camp Cropper, a U.S. Army security detention facility in Baghdad, without being charged with any crime or being allowed to speak with an attorney.
Both men say they were subjected to sleep deprivation, blasting music, hunger and various threats during their incarceration. The lawsuit describes such practices as torture and alleges Rumsfeld personally took part in approving the methods for use by the military in Iraq.
Their attorney, Mike Kanovitz, welcomed the ruling, saying the court faced a choice between "protecting the most fundamental rights of American citizens in the difficult context of a war or leaving those rights solely in the hands of politicians and the military."
"It was not an easy choice for the Court to make, but it was the brave and right choice," Kanovitz said in a written statement.
An attorney for Rumsfeld blasted the ruling.
"Having judges second-guess the decisions made by the armed forces halfway around the world is no way to wage a war," David Rivkin, Jr., said in a written statement. "It saps the effectiveness of the military, puts American soldiers at risk, and shackles federal officials who have a constitutional duty to protect America."
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which represents Rumsfeld in the case, declined comment on the ruling.
But Rivkin said he believes the decision will eventually be overturned.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Authorities say two women found dead early Friday in a rural central Illinois home were a mother and daughter.
Macon County Sheriff Thomas P. Schneider says 57-year-old Cindanett Eaton and 23-year-old Lindsey Eaton were found in their rural Harristown home after a 911 call about 12:45 a.m. Friday. The community is just west of Decatur.
Another woman whom Schneider says is also Cindanett Eaton's daughter is hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. The sheriff wouldn't identify her or discuss the nature of the women's injuries.
Schneider said 27-year-old Timothy Giles of Centralia has been arrested. Giles is being held on $2 million bond and has not appeared in court but his warrant lists murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery, domestic battery and home invasion charges.
Giles does not yet have an attorney.
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation increasing penalties for convicted felons who are found carrying guns.
Under the law, signed Tuesday, felons convicted of unlawful use or possession of a weapon face two to 10 years behind bars.
Additional violations by felons caught with guns while on parole or supervised release will carry a sentence of three to 14 years in prison.
The measure was sponsored by Sen. Tony Munoz of Chicago and Rep. Michael Zalewski of Summit, both Democrats, in response to the shooting death of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham. He was killed outside his home during an attempted robbery last year. Suspects in his death had previous gun charge convictions.
In signing the bill, Quinn said the law will ensure safer neighborhoods for families across Illinois.
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