Emails Leaked at IMC Web Site Detailing the Internal Struggles of the Champaign Police Department

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Operating for more than a decade, the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center website has become known as a local source for exposing police misconduct. For perhaps the first time at any IMC site, somebody from behind the “blue line” leaked information revealing the internal disputes among police. An anonymous post at ucimc.org suggests that the recently announced retirement of Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney may have been forced.

When ucimc.org went live on September 24, 2000, it was part of a revolution taking place on the World Wide Web. Like other IMCs spreading around the globe, it took a strong stance on anonymous posting. The policy was following the IMC ethic of allowing anyone to “become the media.” Anonymous posting would also make it more difficult for governments to track down activists putting things online that might be deemed “subversive.”

This was before the widespread proliferation of blogs and online publishing sites. This was before 9/11 and passage of the PATRIOT Act. This was before WikiLeaks.

On Friday, August 19, 2011, I had been hearing rumors that Chief Finney was calling it quits. Since his involvement in the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington in 2009, many had publicly called for Finney’s dismissal. One individual even took out an ad in the News-Gazette urging city leaders to “Fire Finney.”

The City of Champaign announced Finney’s retirement in a press release posted at their web site on Friday at approximately 3:30 p.m. In the press release, Finney said it was with “great joy and trepidation” that he was retiring. City manager Steve Carter praised Finney for what he called an “outstanding career in law enforcement.” But few knew how embattled the Champaign Police Department truly was.

At 3:42, a brief announcement was posted at ucimc.org by this author with news of that Finney was stepping down as chief. At 3:59, an email was posted in the comment section by an anonymous person either from within the Champaign Police Department or someone close to the police. It was titled “Retire or Resign You Decide.” The anonymous poster prefaced the email with a statement that began, “Time for the truth.” They were posting the copy of an email sent to all city council members and upper city staff. A “rift” existed between staff and management. It was time the city council “takes action and fixes the leadership.”

The email, also anonymously written, explains how “a group of officers of various ranks and positions” had come together to address the lack of integrity among the department leadership. All other means of recourse had been exhausted to “compel management to take appropriate action.” It was after “considerable debate and internal struggle” that the email was sent to city council who they hoped would have “the power and fortitude” to make a change.

The group had hoped the problems could be addressed internally and would not “find their way into the public domain,” but executive decisions in the “last several years” had led to a low morale that has not been “seen or felt in decades.”

According to the email, problems began in 2008 when a performance test was initiated to be used in making decisions of who would be promoted from sergeant to lieutenant. The email claims that lieutenant Scott Swan, deputy chief John Murphy and sergeant Tom Walker had worked together on various drug units and were close friends. It alleges that with the help of Swan, who had worked with a contractor in developing the test, Walker was able to score 98% on the written exam, 20 percentage points above his peers. The issue was taken up with Finney, the email states, but nothing was done.

Walker was then tapped to help Finney gain the accreditation he was seeking from ILEAP, an organization of which Finney was himself the vice-president. Walker was also tasked with implementing a program called Intelligence Lead Policing. A bill was placed before city council in March 2011 that included the permanent promotion of Walker to lieutenant, with Murphy advocating for him, but it failed and Walker was to remain a sergeant.

On April 18, 2011, seven sergeants met with city manager Steve Carter to take up the unfair treatment. No action was taken by Carter and some of those who participated in the meeting were later penalized for their involvement.

On August 8, 2011, overall results of the exams were posted with Walker registering the second highest score, and those among the seven sergeants being given the lowest scores. The group responsible for the email was asking for an independent investigation by the Illinois State Police or the FBI.

The right-wing News-Gazette also posted the announcement of Finney’s retirement at its web site, largely reprinting what had been stated in the press release. At 6:08 p.m., a person identified as “JSmith68” posted a comment under the story that read, “Check out the Independent Media Center website. Has a very interesting email sent to the council on there from someone obviously within the department.”

At 8:08, Dan Corkery, the managing editor of the News-Gazette posted a comment, “Why bother trying to find that website. The text of the email is here:” and provided a link to the address where they had reprinted the email. The News-Gazette has for a long time held the IMC in contempt what they regard as its radical political views, as well as for challenging its virtual monopoly on the local news.

On August 25, a second leak was posted at ucimc.org, this time an internal memo from city manager Steve Carter sent that day to all Champaign Police Department Personnel. Carter assured employees that their concerns were taken “seriously.” Carter invited employees to bring any issues to him personally and they would be looked at in a “fair and responsive manner.”

The anonymous poster of the second leak commented, “They just don’t get it at the City Building. We need someone to come over and speak with all the officers with full assurances that what they say will be confidential. Let them find out the truth. NOTION will change until Deputy Chief Murphy is asked to leave………nothing!!!!”

It is important to recognize that these two leaks first became public at ucimc.org. The News-Gazette, when they did get a copy of the email, first got statements from Finney and Carter saying that these issues had been known about for some time and were being taken seriously. Other local news sources cited the initial email but failed to acknowledge where it first appeared.

The policy of anonymous posting at ucimc.org has allowed at least one individual to blow the whistle on the unfair labor practices within the Champaign Police Department. That the leaks appeared at ucimc.org, a known police watchdog, is a sign of how bad things have become. It also indicates that pressure from both inside and outside the department may have led to Finney’s early retirement at only 51 years old.

At the Champaign city council meeting on September 6, local activist Martel Miller referred to the email and called on the council to act. “[Finney] shouldn’t get to retire,” said Miller. “He should be made to resign.” Miller’s statements were met with silence. As to date, the council has lacked the “fortitude” to respond.

 

Emails Leaked at IMC Web Site Detailing the Internal Struggles of the Champaign Police Department

By Brian Dolinar

 

Operating for more than a decade, the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center website has become known as a local source for exposing police misconduct. For perhaps the first time at any IMC site, somebody from behind the “blue line” leaked information revealing the internal disputes among police. An anonymous post at ucimc.org suggests that the recently announced retirement of Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney may have been forced.

 

When ucimc.org went live on September 24, 2000, it was part of a revolution taking place on the World Wide Web. Like other IMCs spreading around the globe, it took a strong stance on anonymous posting. The policy was following the IMC ethic of allowing anyone to “become the media.” Anonymous posting would also make it more difficult for governments to track down activists putting things online that might be deemed “subversive.”

 

This was before the widespread proliferation of blogs and online publishing sites. This was before 9/11 and passage of the PATRIOT Act. This was before WikiLeaks.

 

On Friday, August 19, 2011, I had been hearing rumors that Chief Finney was calling it quits. Since his involvement in the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington in 2009, many had publicly called for Finney’s dismissal. One individual even took out an ad in the News-Gazette urging city leaders to “Fire Finney.”

 

The City of Champaign announced Finney’s retirement in a press release posted at their web site on Friday at approximately 3:30 p.m. In the press release, Finney said it was with “great joy and trepidation” that he was retiring. City manager Steve Carter praised Finney for what he called an “outstanding career in law enforcement.” But few knew how embattled the Champaign Police Department truly was.

 

At 3:42, a brief announcement was posted at ucimc.org by this author with news of that Finney was stepping down as chief. At 3:59, an email was posted in the comment section by an anonymous person either from within the Champaign Police Department or someone close to the police. It was titled “Retire or Resign You Decide.” The anonymous poster prefaced the email with a statement that began, “Time for the truth.” They were posting the copy of an email sent to all city council members and upper city staff. A “rift” existed between staff and management. It was time the city council “takes action and fixes the leadership.”

 

The email, also anonymously written, explains how “a group of officers of various ranks and positions” had come together to address the lack of integrity among the department leadership. All other means of recourse had been exhausted to “compel management to take appropriate action.” It was after “considerable debate and internal struggle” that the email was sent to city council who they hoped would have “the power and fortitude” to make a change.

 

The group had hoped the problems could be addressed internally and would not “find their way into the public domain,” but executive decisions in the “last several years” had led to a low morale that has not been “seen or felt in decades.”


According to the email, problems began in 2008 when a performance test was initiated to be used in making decisions of who would be promoted from sergeant to lieutenant. The email claims that lieutenant Scott Swan, deputy chief John Murphy and sergeant Tom Walker had worked together on various drug units and were close friends. It alleges that with the help of Swan, who had worked with a contractor in developing the test, Walker was able to score 98% on the written exam, 20 percentage points above his peers. The issue was taken up with Finney, the email states, but nothing was done.

 

Walker was then tapped to help Finney gain the accreditation he was seeking from ILEAP, an organization of which Finney was himself the vice-president. Walker was also tasked with implementing a program called Intelligence Lead Policing. A bill was placed before city council in March 2011 that included the permanent promotion of Walker to lieutenant, with Murphy advocating for him, but it failed and Walker was to remain a sergeant.

 

On April 18, 2011, seven sergeants met with city manager Steve Carter to take up the unfair treatment. No action was taken by Carter and some of those who participated in the meeting were later penalized for their involvement.

 

On August 8, 2011, overall results of the exams were posted with Walker registering the second highest score, and those among the seven sergeants being given the lowest scores. The group responsible for the email was asking for an independent investigation by the Illinois State Police or the FBI.

 

The right-wing News-Gazette also posted the announcement of Finney’s retirement at its web site, largely reprinting what had been stated in the press release. At 6:08 p.m., a person identified as “JSmith68” posted a comment under the story that read, “Check out the Independent Media Center website. Has a very interesting email sent to the council on there from someone obviously within the department.”

 

At 8:08, Dan Corkery, the managing editor of the News-Gazette posted a comment, “Why bother trying to find that website. The text of the email is here:” and provided a link to the address where they had reprinted the email. The News-Gazette has for a long time held the IMC in contempt what they regard as its radical political views, as well as for challenging its virtual monopoly on the local news.

 

On August 25, a second leak was posted at ucimc.org, this time an internal memo from city manager Steve Carter sent that day to all Champaign Police Department Personnel. Carter assured employees that their concerns were taken “seriously.” Carter invited employees to bring any issues to him personally and they would be looked at in a “fair and responsive manner.”

 

The anonymous poster of the second leak commented, “They just don’t get it at the City Building. We need someone to come over and speak with all the officers with full assurances that what they say will be confidential. Let them find out the truth. NOTION will change until Deputy Chief Murphy is asked to leave………nothing!!!!”

 

It is important to recognize that these two leaks first became public at ucimc.org. The News-Gazette, when they did get a copy of the email, first got statements from Finney and Carter saying that these issues had been known about for some time and were being taken seriously. Other local news sources cited the initial email but failed to acknowledge where it first appeared.

 

The policy of anonymous posting at ucimc.org has allowed at least one individual to blow the whistle on the unfair labor practices within the Champaign Police Department. That the leaks appeared at ucimc.org, a known police watchdog, is a sign of how bad things have become. It also indicates that pressure from both inside and outside the department may have led to Finney’s early retirement at only 51 years old.

 

At the Champaign city council meeting on September 6, local activist Martel Miller referred to the email and called on the council to act. “[Finney] shouldn’t get to retire,” said Miller. “He should be made to resign.” Miller’s statements were met with silence. As to date, the council has lacked the “fortitude” to respond. 

 

 

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.

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