Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2009

Champaign City Council Studies Police Use of Force Policy

Once again, the Champaign City Council chamber was filled to capacity Tuesday night, with people concerned about police practices in the wake of the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington. This time, the topic was the department's new Use of Force policy, which took effect just before the 15 year old Carrington was shot in a police confrontation.

In his first public comments since his involvement in the confrontation in which Carrington was shot, Police Chief R-T Finney defended the policy, which he says was revised as part of his efforts to earn professional accreditation for the police department. He argued against remarks from police critics, who said that African-Americans were subject to more use of force by Champaign Police than white residents.

"The use of force is based on reasonableness," said Finney. "It's based on the actions that are presented to the officer. We review each one of them for that. It has nothing to do with race."

In contrast to two previous council meetings, police officers and supporters turned out in large numbers at Tuesday night's study session. Many wore buttons that said "Support Our Police". Albert Lo defended the Use of Force policy against critics who said it needed to be more specific.

"The Use of Force policy probably should be ambiguous," said Lo, "giving officers the opportunity to use their best judgment. That's why we hired them."

In contrast, 1st District Councilman Will Kyles said he thought the revised Use of Force policy might be too vague. For instance, he called for more specific guidelines on when officers can draw their gun.

Champaign Police officials say the revised policy allows deadly force only in cases where great bodily harm has or may occur. And they say the guidelines for Tasers are for when the department may call in another law enforce agency that uses Tasers --- Champaign does not. Chief Finney has talked about reviving the idea, but would not comment on the idea last night.

C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice was among those arguing Tuesday night for more specific language in the Use of Force policy, and against any language on Tasers. They also want any changes in police policy that directly affects affecting the community to come before the Champaign City Council. The group plans a noon-hour youth rally on Wednesday, Veterans Day, at the downtown Urbana Veterans Memorial, in memory of Kiwane Carrington.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 05, 2009

Judge Accepts Settlement Agreement, Lifts Unit Four Consent Decree

The Champaign school Consent Decree is now history. A federal judge in Peoria Wednesday accepted a settlement agreement between the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs in the racial equity case, and formally terminated the decree --- ending seven years of court supervision.

In his Opinion and Order, Judge Joe Billy McDade wrote that the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs had worked to produce "seven years of transformative progress toward a race-neutral educational environment that is most likely to continue after the Consent Decree ends". Unit Four spokeswoman Beth Shepperd says they look forward to more progress toward racial equity.

Yes, the Consent Decree is over", says Shepperd. "But we have learned so much and gained so many tools to make student successful, that we feel that we are at the beginning of just incredibly great things for our schools."

The attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, Carol Ashley, says while they wish more progress had been made already, the Champaign school district has come a long way in its understanding of the needs of African-American students.

"The settlement and the lawsuit came because the (school) board had turned a deaf ear for many years about minority complaints", says Ashley. "So, when you look at the state of affairs, you can say, at least there's progress in the administration's understanding of issues."

Ashley says there have been concrete accomplishments as well. She says Unit Four now has more African-American administrators and teachers than it did when the Consent Decree began. She says its methods of assigning students to schools is more fair and equitable. And she cites plans to expand and rebuild two schools in predominantly black neighborhoods as part of the gains made under the Consent Decree.

With the Consent Decree now lifted, the Unit Four district stands to save somewhere around 2 million dollars as year in legal and consulting fees it had paid to support the court supervision.

And as part of its settlement agreement with the plaintiffs, the Unit Four school district is creating an Education Equity Excellence Committee --- to advise the district on racial equity issues now that the Consent Decree has been lifted. Unit Four's Beth Shepperd says they received 27 applications from community members to serve on the panel, and Superintendent Arthur Culver will make his recommendations from that list later this month.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 23, 2009

March Highlights Sadness, Frustration over Carrington Death

This week's Champaign city council meeting brought out angry calls among adults for a police chief's resignation and for reviews of police policy. With emotions still strong, a subdued crowd of local youth last night looked for greater lines of communication following the police shooting death of Kiwane Carrington.

Aaron Ammons of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice led about 100 people in a chant of "no more stolen lives" as they marched towards the rally at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. But more than 200 would eventually file into the gym, mostly African-American youth, where they would bring their remembrances of 15-year old Kiwane Carrington, who died two weeks ago today.

Youth Media Workshop co-director Will Paterson served as facilitator of the 90-minute forum. He says while young people are concerned, angry, and afraid about what happened... they aren't disrespectful.

"You need to respect the police officers and not back-talking to them -- and these were young people saying that, not adults," Paterson said. "They were saying that to each other. They called for better representation in terms of people hearing their concerns, but they were also talking about respecting authority."

16-year old Lavon Miller was a friend of Carrington's. He says lot of hurt remains, but wants to let the investigation of the October 9th shooting death play itself out. "Young black men going out here, starting trouble and revenge and starting even more problem -- that's a concern for me. Let the law take in in their hands," Miller said.

Aaron Ammons says the event was about young people being part of the solution and not the problem.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 21, 2009

Carrington Shooting Brings Raw Feelings to Champaign Council Meeting

Comments to the Champaign City Council Tuesday night about the shooting of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington included the charge that police policy may have authorized the shooting.

Kiwane Carrington was unarmed and attempting to flee when he was shot to death in a confrontation with police two weeks ago. Now, the group C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice says a document revising Champaign Police procedures authorizes the deadly use of force when a suspect is trying to avoid arrest -- even if no one is threatened with harm. Spokesperson Danielle Chynoweth told the city council such a policy opened the door for more police shootings of unarmed people.

"If you were a young kid who never read this use of force policy which even our group had the hardest time getting our hands on -- had to go through back channels to get a copy -- resistance can equal death. You must rewrite this policy," Chynoweth said.

Chynoweth was one of 52 speaking to the council last night about the Carrington shooting. In response, Champaign resident Randy Varnellas expressed concern that police policy would be changed in any way that reduced their options to act.

"I think police tonight took a real pounding to say the least, and I for one will continue to give the Champaign Police Department my full support as well as this council in any decision that you make," Varnellas told the council.

Police spokeswoman Rene Dunn declined to comment on deadly force policy at the meeting. But Councilman Mike LaDue garnered enough support from other council members to put the issue on the agenda of an upcoming study session.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 21, 2009

Citizens Demand Answers, Action after Champaign Police Shooting

It wasn't on the agenda, but the October 9th shooting death of Kiwane Carrington in a confrontation with police was the major topic at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting. Council members heard some three hours of comments from a skeptical and sometimes angry public. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2009

Officer Identified; Juvenile Charged, Released in Carrington Police Shooting

The police officer whose gun went off and killed a 15 year old boy during a confrontation in Champaign last Friday is a 14-year veteran of the Champaign Police Department.

Police released the name of Daniel Norbits yesterday. He's been on paid Administrative Leave ever since the shooting occurred on West Vine Street last week. In a news release, the department said they couldn't release Norbits' name earlier, because they needed to protect the integrity of the investigation, which is being done by outside police. They say they'll release more information as it becomes available, but only if it does not interfere with the investigation.

Meanwhile, a second teen involved in the incident has been released from detention to his mother's custody. The minor is charged with aggravated resisting a peace officer.

Carrington was shot and killed in a confrontation involving himself and another teen and Officer Norbits and Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney, after a neighbor reported an apparent home invasion. On Monday, the owner of the house in question said Carrington was a frequent visitor and always welcome there.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 12, 2009

Family, Others Want Answers from Police in Fatal Shooting of 15 Year Old

Family members say they want to know why a police run-in led to the death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington - and they say Champaign police have told them very little.

Police say an officer's firearm discharged during a scuffle with Carrington and another teen after a neighbor reported what appeared to be a break-in at a Vine Street home. Carrington's adult sister Kinesha Williams was his legal guardian - she says police have never contacted the family or offered a liaison until well after he was killed. Williams also wants to know why a gun was involved against unarmed boys, and what can be done in the future.

"I want to know what we are going to do as a community to make sure that this does not happen to anybody else's family," Williams asked tearfully.

Family members say Carrington was troubled by the death of his mother from cancer last year, and he had truancy problems, but they say that didn't warrant the police response. The home's owner also says Carrington had lived there over the summer and was welcome in the home.

Police have called a meeting of their Community and Police Partnership for this afternoon to discuss the incident. But some -- including Pastor Evelyn Underwood of the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana -- say the incident makes them think twice about working with police.

"I don't believe in groupthink, and a mind is a terrible thing to waste," Underwood told those assembled at a Monday press conference. "I've got a mind of my own. However, I will check with people I represent, the Ministerial Alliance, before I make decisions. (But) I will not be in secret meetings where I cannot go back top my group and say this is what's going on."

Champaign Police deputy chief Troy Daniels has not yet returned a call for comment - chief R.T. Finney suffered a slight injury in the scuffle. State police have been called in to investigate, but activist Terry Townsend says federal authorities should also look into the incident.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2009

Federal Money will Help Champaign County Transform its Care for Emotionally Troubled Youth

A new approach to helping emotionally-disturbed young people is getting nine million dollars in federal money.

Champaign County's Mental Health Board is implementing a new effort called the Access Initiative with the help of the state Division of Mental Health. It's meant to bring families more into the process of assisting troubled youngsters, and it's especially aimed at African-American cultural sensitivities.

Peter Tracy is the director of the county mental health board. He says previous methods of treating those children have not succeeded over time.

"Office-based therapy has not often been really successful with that population," Tracy said. "The departure is that this is a kind of outreach program where services are brought to the client and family as opposed of having them go to the office."

Under the grant, those services would be funded on a per-child basis instead of as a lump sum. They hope to serve about 200 children and teens, with families helping determine what form that assistance takes.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2009

Consent Decree Hearing Reveals Resolve, Some Skepticism

What could be one of the final court hearings on the Champaign school district's consent decree is uncovering some doubt over a proposed settlement.

A federal judge invited written public comment on the proposal that would end seven years of court supervision over racial equity issues in Unit 4. On Tuesday, some of those commenters testified in person.

Before those people spoke, Champaign superintendent Arthur Culver answered a concern from Judge Joe Billy McDade that the public skepticism may stem from what happens in individual school - in other words, some staff may revert back to old habits or not share the same concern for equity.

I think it's clear that we're serous about this work," said Culver. "If our staff members aren't coming to work with the same vision and mission that we have set for this district, then there are consequences."

Part of the settlement includes a new committee to oversee future equity issues, such as alternative education or student assignment. Ardice James, with the National Council of African American Men worries that the Education Equity Excellence committee may not have any teeth.

"Who would this committee report to?" asked James. "I feel that this committee should report to the board and more or less be advisory. I also believe that any recommendation that this committee proposes, that the Board of Education should consider that recommendation very strongly."

But Carol Ashley, an attorney for the plaintiffs whose suit led to the consent decree, says that committee will be guided by a third party. It's not known when Judge McDade will decide to accept or deny the settlement.

The hearing was a rare event for a federal court in central Illinois. After initially ruling that television crews could videotape the courtroom hearing -- a rarity in the federal court system -- Judge Mc Dade responded to complaints from radio newspaper reporters and opened recording to all media. McDade told reporters before the hearing that he had made a mistake in believing he was approving one station's request to broadcast the entire hearing live, and he opened the hearing up to all recording devices out of fairness.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 28, 2009

Champaign Unit 4 Prepares for Hearing to End Racial-Equity Consent Decree

Representatives of the Champaign Unit Four School District and the plaintiffs in its consent decree meet this morning in Peoria to discuss a possible settlement.

School Board President Dave Tomlinson says such meetings are common prior to a court hearing. He says it gives both parties a chance to reach an amicable agreement out of court. However, Tomlinson says if any proposals about the Consent Decree come about, they won't come from the school district.

"The plaintiff's wouldn't be making any offers to settle so the district's not making any offers to settle. We're certainly willing to hear those offers if there are some made," Tomlinson said.

Neither Tomlinson or Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley would comment on whether attorneys for the plaintiffs will make any proposals at the settlement conference. But Tomlinson has called two special school board meetings --- for Tuesday and Wednesday nights --- to discuss the Consent Decree behind closed doors. The federal court hearing on the Consent Decree is scheduled for next week.

The Consent Decree on racial equity was due to expire this summer, but attorneys for the Plaintiffs want to extend it in three areas --- special education, alternative education and new classrooms on Champaign's north side. They say Unit Four has not made sufficient or fast enough progress in those areas. The school district says they've made progress and that any efforts that fell short were still made in good faith.


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