Vigil For Quentin Larry and Terrell Layfield

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 , July 22 at 8pm
a vigil will be held for
Quentin Larry, Terrell Layfield,
and others who have
died while in police custody
at the Champaign County jail.
Bring a candle and meet us at
204 E. Main, downtown Urbana, in front of
the Champaign County Sheriff’s office.
This vigil is first to honor the individuals
and their families. Secondly, it is a call for an
independent investigation into the five deaths
that have occurred within the past two years.
We plan to go to the Champaign County
Board with the demand that an independent
investigation be conducted into all five deaths.
Public concern arose in 2004 when three
suicides occurred within six months. IMC
reporters made contact with Twymenia Layfield,
the wife of Terrell Layfield, the last of
the three alleged suicides. It was through
conversations with Mrs. Layfield that they
found out about the restrictive and arbitrary
visitation rules, as well as the high cost of
phone calls from the Champaign County jail.
After these were exposed, Sheriff Walsh
allowed for more than the cut off number of
fifty visitations. Sandra Ahten and Champaign-
Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice
successfully rallied to get the County Board
to renegotiate a contract awarding $14,000 a
month kickback to a phone company.
IMC reporters accompanied Mrs. Layfield
to the coroner’s inquest and all left feeling
they had not been given a full
explanation of Terell’s death.
The public hearing involved
Urbana officer Mike Metzler
giving an account of the
alleged suicide. No evidence
was presented, no photographs,
no bed sheet
claimed he used. No witnesses
testified, not the officer who
found the body. The matter
was quickly settled in under
ten minutes.
This coroner’s inquest was the culmination
of an investigation that was far from
independent. The Urbana police force was
assigned to investigate the Champaign County
jail. In a small town such as Urbana-
Champaign, the authorities are a small circle
of friends who know one another on a first
name basis and have lunch together.
From the beginning, the Sheriff could not
start his investigation until the Champaign
County State’s Attorney determined that no
criminal charges were to be filed. If the Sheriff
was to be sued, State’s Attorney Julia
Reitz would be his lawyer. In this scenario, as
Sandra Ahten writes, “the State’s Attorney
would be both prosecution and defense”
( 2/11/2005).
An independent investigation into the five
deaths is the final piece in the puzzle to find out
what is going on in the Champaign County jail.
The repeated incidents suggest that these
deaths are not “accidental” but
systemic and procedural. In the
words of Mrs. Layfield, “In my
opinion, suicides are not only
the fault of the jail system, but
also the justice system.”
To police officers, jail guards,
lawyers, and judges, inmates
are not people who have loved
ones, wives, and children. Terrell
Layfield was charged with
cocaine possession. He took it
to trial and was found innocent. Yet he was
found guilty on the trivial charge of obstruction
of justice for lying to the police about his
name. The heavy sentence of more than five
years given by Judge Heidi Ladd should be
seen as retribution for his beating the drug
charges and lying to an officer. Layfield was
obviously distraught about the long sentence.
When he was denied a routine phone call to his
wife, he became upset and began to make noise
in his cell. He was not responded to for several
hours. Committing suicide was his final act of
protest against an unfair justice system.
According to the Department of Justice,
drug offenders were found to have the lowest
suicide and homicide rates of all inmates.
Terrell Layfield was not suicidal before he
entered the Champaign County jail. The
inhumane condition in our jails and prisons
do not correct, but only create more death
and destruction. Those who administer justice
become jaded and themselves become
dehumanized. In the courtroom, Judge Heidi
Ladd said Layfield received several years
because he was “living like a bum.”
On the web site, Mrs. Layfield
responded to these comments saying Terrell
was also a father, husband, friend, and son. She
blamed the authorities who failed to take the
first suicides seriously, “What did they change
to prevent this from happening again to me – it
seems nothing!” Her words were prophetic.
While steps have been taken by Sheriff Walsh,
not enough has been done to prevent two more
deaths in the jail. How many more before we
have a restoration of the public trust?
The individuals and their families are the
real victims in this country’s War on Drugs.
Quentin Larry, who died of a heart attack the
Sheriff is calling drug-related, is the latest victim.
Larry died over Memorial Day weekend
and his case is still under investigation. The
City of Champaign police have been assigned
to investigate this incident, another inside job.
The families of Quentin Larry and Terrell
Layfield are supporting this vigil and asking
for a full explanation of the death of their
loved ones. Join us on July 22 at 8 pm in
front of the Sheriff’s office, 204 E. Main
Street, downtown Urbana. The vigil is being
sponsored by the Urban League, Champaign
Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice,
Visionaries Educating Youth and Adults
(VEYA), and Anti-War, Anti-Racism Effort
(AWARE). For more information see the
June issue of the Public i.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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