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Champaign City Officials Want Federal Investigation into Arrest

The Illinois State Police has concluded that a Champaign officer's actions during a June 5, 2011 arrest were appropriate, and that no further review is needed. But Champaign city officials don't agree with that assessment, and are calling for a federal inquiry into the arrest.

Video of the arrest anonymously leaked this week online shows an African American youth being pepper sprayed by a Champaign police officer after he was stopped for jaywalking. A police officer is also seen putting his hands on the man's neck while he is handcuffed in the back of a squad car.

City Manager Steve Carter asked the state police to investigate the way the arrest was carried out after Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney determined the officer's actions regarding "use of force" were within police and training standards. The state police reached the same conclusion as the Champaign Police Department, and now Carter is asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation to review the case.

"It's an opportunity for us to look at our policies and procedures," Carter said. "I think in the end that'll be better for the officers and the department and better for the community all around."

Carter said the city council will also be asked to approve the hiring of an independent firm to look at the matter. Patricia Avery, the interim president of the Champaign County NAACP, said she is pleased with the city's decision to push for another investigation. Avery said she has heard about other cases involving alleged abuse by the Champaign Police Department, and hopes the city's stance is a turning point for police-community relations.

"It's a tragic situation," Avery said. "It's time for a change, and I think people are bound and determined not to rest until we seek justice and things change in the community."

Tamara Cummings of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council said the leaked video of the arrest is being criticized by people who haven't watched the entire video, and don't understand proper police work.

For instance, Cummings said the use of pepper spray to subdue a young African-American man in the arrest was proper, because the subject was resisting with enough force to potentially injure one of the officers. She said pepper spray is a legitimate tool to force an unwilling subject to comply with police orders.

"It's essentially a force mechanism," Cummings said. "And it's authorized by the department to use in order to get a subject to comply. So, the department investigation concluded that the use of pepper spray in this case was appropriate, and I have to reason to think that that's not correct."

Meanwhile, a local activist said the city of Champaign's plans to seek a federal review of the June 5th arrest doesn't go far enough.

Champaign County Board Member Carol Ammons gathered with more than 70 people Tuesday night at Salem Baptist Church in Champaign.They outlined a list of demands that they want city officials to meet.

"We're hoping that the city will see the importance of selling a really debt with the black community," Ammons said. "They deserve respect, and they have not gotten it from the city of Champaign policing, and it is time for them to address these needs." Ammons is also urging the city council to create a police civilian review board with subpoena powers. The council will take up the issue at the start of next year.

Among those demands, Ammons said criminal charges should be filed against the arresting officers. She also said other police abuse allegations dismissed by Chief R.T. Finney should be investigated.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he could see the city possibly reviewing past allegations.

"I don't think it's out of the question, and I don't think it's unreasonable to have the council ask that question and ask to see those other reports," Gerard said.

The city is also in the process of seeking a new police chief. Avery said the NAACP - along with the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Champaign Community and Police Partnership - is helping organize a public forum on Dec. 8 at 7pm in the city building with the four finalists being considered for the job.

Watch the police footage from the June 5 arrest