Busy Week for Community Courtwatch

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Courtwatchers have been busy keeping an
eye on the criminal justice system in
Champaign County. Again it is volunteers,
individuals doing their duty as citizens,
that have done more work than paid staff
in the mainstream media or salaried public
officials. Though we have been labeled
“activists” and summarily dismissed, it is due to our efforts
that the system will be held accountable.
On Monday, August 21, we addressed the Urbana City
Council about the recently released numbers indicating the
widespread practice of racial profiling in Urbana and Champaign.
These numbers are important because traffic stops
are often the first point of contact between police and those
being run through the justice system. Traffic stops often lead
to background checks and illegal searches, all done with no
probable cause.
For a second year, the Illinois Department of Transportation
released the numbers of all traffic stops and the
racial background of drivers. Courtwatcher Randall Cotton
told the Urbana city council that the “minority disparity
index” of 1.44 in Urbana, a number indicating that minorities
are 44% more likely to be pulled over than whites,
hides the more alarming rates of racial profiling against
specifically African Americans in the community. While
African Americans represent only 12% of the population in
Urbana, they make up 33% of all traffic stops. This means
that Blacks are 270% more likely to be pulled over than
whites, a number that is absolutely appalling.
Paid professionals at the News-Gazette had failed to
crunch these numbers and were forced to back track on
their reporting. An earlier headline that read “Minority
Traffic Stops Decline in Urbana,” was followed by one reading
“Activist Says Black Traffic Stops in Urbana Are
Extreme.” Interestingly, Randall Cotton’s connections with
C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, Community Courtwatch,
or AWARE was not mentioned in the newspaper.
The label “activist” (one that may be flattering to Randall),
is a clear attempt to discredit our efforts in the eyes of the
largely conservative readership of the News-Gazette.
Also that week was the coroner’s inquest for Quentin Larry, a
36 year-old resident of Champaign who died in the Champaign
County jail over Memorial Day weekend. Larry’s death
was the fifth in the County jail over a two year period, another
alarming number. This fosters the perception that if you
go into the Champaign County jail, you might not come out
alive! At the inquest, Champaign County coroner Duane
Northrup questioned Champaign police officer Mark Huckstep
who conducted the investigation. In these deaths an
“independent” investigation involves the Champaign police
investigating Champaign County. We do not find this practice
to be independent, when the local law enforcement is a
relatively small, tight-knit community of people who know
one another on a first name basis, who know one another’s
children, and who regularly have lunch together.
The conclusion of the coroner’s inquest was that Larry’s
death was accidental, a heart attack that resulted from a high
level of cocaine toxicity in his bloodstream. But the question
remains as to how Larry was able to get drugs in the jail.
Officer Huckstep testified that Quentin Larry was arrested
in Urbana at 3:20 am on May 27, 2006. Northrup, who has
been very forthcoming with questions from the public over
the deaths in the jails, asked Huckstep to detail the steps of
Larry’s processing in the jail. Huckstep said that a “standard
pat down” was done by Sheriff’s deputy Heather Gill, who
found no contraband. He also said that it was standard procedure
for a female guard to process a male inmate.
A 20-minute mental health evaluation was conducted on
Larry at 12:45 the afternoon of May 27. The nurse found that
he had high blood pressure and was acting paranoid and
delusional. Yet at that time, there was no indication that
Larry was under the influence of drugs.
Huckstep claimed that because of Larry’s actions, he was
not “dressed out” in processing – he remained in his street
clothes rather than being given the usual jail garb. Larry
was taken from a holding cell where he was with other
inmates and put into an individual holding cell.
At approximately 9:00 pm, over 17 hours after Larry
arrived in the jail, he was found collapsed on the floor of
his cell. At 9:04, Sergeant Johnson had checked up on
Larry. At 9:09, Johnson found Larry down and not breathing.
When there was an attempt to administer CPR, a bag
was found in Larry’s mouth and removed. He was revived
and sent to Carle Hospital, where he arrived at 9:29 pm.
The next morning, May 28, at 6:10 am the doctors pronounced
him dead.
Officer Huckstep testified at the time of the inquest that
the results of the contents of the bag found in Larry’s mouth
had still not come in. He stated the bag was 2 inches long
and Northrup said that it appeared to be a Cling Wrap plastic
tied at the top. Larry’s death was presumably caused by
the contents escaping the bag. The autopsy found high toxicity
levels of cocaine in Larry’s bloodstream. Northrup stated
that when cocaine is administered orally, it is more powerful
than smoking or snorting it. How much cocaine is not
known, although it was probably crack cocaine. How the
bag was ripped was not explained.
Officer Huckstep concluded by saying, “I believe they
did everything they could to try to save him.”
After hearing the testimony of Officer Huckstep, the six
member jury deliberated and came back with a ruling that
found Larry’s death to be accidental. They also entered a
recommendation that Sheriff Dan Walsh review the procedure
for processing individuals and conduct more thorough
This leaves the Larry family and the public wondering:
How did he get the bag in the first place after being in the
jail for 17 hours? How did he get it through booking, past
several guards, and a nurse? Did he bring it in himself? Did
he get it from another inmate? Did he cop it off a guard?
Why would Larry knowingly put an open bag of crack in
his mouth, surely aware that it could cause an overdose? If
he was trying to hide the bag from Sgt. Johnson, why not
flush it down the toilet? Should a man who has not been
found guilty of a crime die in police custody? Did this have
to happen five times in Champaign County?
These questions and others are not ridiculous given the
abuses by another prison guard that has recently come to
light. They are ultimately questions that must be answered
by Sheriff Dan Walsh.
Courtwatchers were in court Friday, August 25, to see
Sergeant William Alan Myers enter a plea of not guilty to
accusations that he tased inmate Ray Hsieh in 2005 and
lied about it to his superiors. In addition to the two counts
of aggravated battery and obstruction of justice, prosecutors
filed the charge of disorderly conduct, a Class 4 felony
that carries a minimum of one year in prison.
The police report on Myers reveals a long list of abuses,
actions that could be considered torture (05-CF-2105). I have
personally contacted news sources, told the News-Gazette
several times to read the report on Myers, and still important
information about Myers has been kept from the public.
In the report, it reveals that investigators interviewed several
other individuals who were tased by Myers. One of the
most disturbing is the story of Michael Rich, a 21 year-old
white male, who says that Myers put him in a restraint chair,
put a spit hood over his head, and punched him in the head
repeatedly. Myers then used a Taser on him. Rich filed a formal
complaint and spoke personally to Dan Walsh months
before Myers had the incident with Ray Hsieh.
This looks bad for both Walsh, who knew about these
abuses, and Myers who has shown a pattern of behavior.
Ray Hsieh, like Michael Rich, also had a spit hood
placed over his head, a hood designed to keep inmates
from spitting on officers. Myers received the additional
third charge of disorderly conduct because he had also
lied about the need for the spit hood. Apparently, Hsieh
had not been spitting on officers. These stories suggest
that Myers is a sadistic individual who is following examples
set by the U.S. military in their prosecution of the
“War on Terror.”
It appears that Myers was placing hoods over individuals
and then beating them, a scene similar to the instances
of torture exposed in the infamous Abu Ghraib scandal.
Additionally, Myers was using a Taser to torture inmates, a
tool which although called a “non-lethal” weapon has
caused over 150 deaths in the U.S. according to Amnesty
International. Myers tased Ray Hsieh a total of three times,
each shot carrying 50,000 volts of electricity.
Statistics have shown that in Champaign County, 64%
of those shot with Tasers are African American. In 2004, CU
Citizens for Peace and Justice successfully stopped the
purchase of Tasers by the city of Champaign. Community
Courtwatch calls for the abolition of all Tasers in Champaign
County (communitycourtwatch.org). The case of Sgt.
Myers reveals how easily these high-tech cattle prods can
be abused.
Myers remains on paid leave. He will be in court again
on October 3.
Lastly, we were in court Wednesday, August 23 for the
arraignment of Ryan Garrett, another one of Sheriff Walsh’s
deputies who is charged with four counts of official misconduct.
Garrett allegedly called another officer to conduct
a DUI on his estranged wife, who tested negative. In another
act of harassment, he also stalked his wife’s boyfriend,
approached him, and told him “I’m a cop. Watch your
back.” Garrett pleaded not guilty and will be in court again
on October 17.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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