Torture Exposed in the Champaign County Jail

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Many are now familiar with the infamous
story of Sergeant Jon Burge in Chicago. In
2002, it was found that Sgt. Burge and his
underlings had tortured over 150 Black
men in Chicago jails. Burge had used a
hand-cranked army field phone to deliver
electric shocks to criminal suspects.
We often assume that these incidents of police brutality
only occur in big cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and
New York. Yet the discovery of these abuses in Champaign-
Urbana, a sleepy Midwestern college town in
downstate Illinois, is a sign that they are going on all over
the country.
As violence escalates overseas, with the United States
tightening its imperial grip in the Middle East, we see a
corresponding rise in violence at home. Like Sgt. Burge
who learned his torture techniques in Vietnam, the use of
hoods to torture individuals was discovered in Champaign
County jails not long after the Abu Ghraib scandal
broke in the media.
In November 2005, Sergeant William Alan Myers, a 14
year veteran of the Sheriff’s office, was turned in by fellow
officers for illegally using a Taser on an inmate in the
Champaign County jail. The story also involved placing
hoods over inmates. An investigation was conducted by
the Sheriff’s office and its report is where much of the following
information was gained. In the investigation, it was
also found that 21 year old Michael Rich was hooded and
tased a year earlier in November 2004. These revelations
are a textbook example of police corruption and what it
takes for cops to cross the “blue line” of silence.
Sheriff Dan Walsh praised the “professionalism and
integrity” of the correctional officers who turned Myers in.
Yet the same officers who ratted on Myers had been
involved in previous beatings of Michael Rich and willingly
falsified police reports about the incident. Additionally,
Sheriff Dan Walsh had already been notified about his
rogue correctional officer.
Sgt. Myers is currently being prosecuted by State’s Attorney
Julia Rietz on charges of aggravated battery, obstruction of
justice, and disorderly conduct (Case no. 05CF2105). The
incident involved inmate Ray Hsieh, a 31 year-old Chinese
man who was in jail for stealing a car. To stop an argument
between Hsieh and another inmate, correctional officers
sprayed a heavy cloud of pepper spray. Hsieh was cleaned
up in a cell shower and placed in a restraint chair. Due to
the amount of pepper spray he had inhaled, Hsieh could
not stop spitting and officers had placed a “spit hood” on
him for their protection. According to correctional officers
Jeremy Heath and Joshua Jones, who eventually turned
Myers in, Hsieh was always in handcuffs and was not trying
to spit on them. Myers would later try to convince his fellow
officers to say Hsieh was not restrained, was spitting on
officers, and resisting their demands, hence his need to use
a Taser to subdue him.
After hearing about an altercation between two
inmates, Myers arrived at the downtown jail at approximately
8:00 pm on November 14, 2005. He had called
Sgt. Mennenga from the satellite jail and requested the use
of a Taser. When others saw Myers enter the shower room
where Hsieh was being held, they say he had a look of
determination on his face and was holding a Taser. Breaking
police procedure requiring that other assisting officers
always be present when handling an inmate, Myers sent
officers Heath and Jones, as well as correctional officers
Arnold Matthews and Craig Wakefield, out of the room.
Sgt. Myers was their superior and they obeyed his orders.
But they stood at the door and watched as Myers, by himself,
tortured the fully restrained Hsieh.
When interviewed by investigators, Ray Hsieh recalls
he had a “mask on” while he was attacked. An inmate who
witnessed the incident told an investigator that Hsieh
“looked like a Taliban prisoner” with the hood on.
Hsieh was tased four times at 50,000 volts, with several
minutes between each shot. He was later found to be mentally
ill and probably needed medication for his behavior
in the jail. But before he could be treated by a nurse, he
was treated with the brutal shock therapy of Sgt. Myers.
One inmate told an investigator that the officers “were
just kind of laughing it off and stuff.” Another inmate who
was interviewed said that officer Matthews joked, “He’s
going to have a bad headache.”
Afterwards, Myers told Heath, “This is going to take
some creative report writing.” Myers typed up a falsified
police report and emailed it to Heath, telling him “Make
your report look like mine.” Myers’ report read:
“Hsieh stood up and spit on my shirt and I fired the
Taser again. I had to fire the Taser one more time until
Officers Mathews and Heath were able to handcuff Hsieh
behind his back. We placed Hsieh in the restraint chair.
The entire time we were doing this, Hsieh was spitting so I
ordered a spit hood placed over Hsieh’s head to prevent
him spitting on us anymore.”
When officer Heath saw the report, he was offended
that Myers had included his name. “He says that I was
there,” Heath told an investigator. “The main thing that
really bothers me is that he said I was there while he was
being tased.” Of course, Heath was not bothered by the
torture of an inmate, but that he was implicated in the
Officer Heath left the jail that night without finishing
his report. His defiance angered Myers, who told officer
Jones to relay a message to Heath: “You tell him his ass is
mine tomorrow.” This tale of police corruption reveals the
power that superiors hold over their subordinates, as well
as the routine practice of falsifying police reports.
That night the officers involved – Heath, Jones,
Matthews, and Wakefield – met at Todd and John’s bar for
beers and discussed what they should do. Officer Wakefield
told an investigator about their decision to turn
Myers in, “we knew what we needed to do from the beginning.
It was more a matter of, I don’t even know what it
was a matter of, but we knew what we had to do from the
beginning. It was just a matter of doing it, I guess.”
Officer Mathews was also named in the report. When
he read it he responded, “the report kinda like made, I felt,
kinda like made me look like a jack ass.” Matthews also
was not concerned for the health of Hsieh, but for the
future of his job. He told an investigator, “I got a house and
kids, I can’t lie.”
It was primarily Jones and Heath who decided to go to
the police union representative, who notified Captain
James Young that night. Sgt. Myers was arrested on
November 16 and taken to the Piatt County Jail in Monticello
for his own safety.
An internal investigation was conducted that involved
interviewing several witnesses, whose testimony is included
in Myers’ criminal case file and is the basis of this account.
When investigators finally cornered Myers about his
lying, they lectured to him, “when someone does that,
then they question the integrity of us all.” Myers claimed
he panicked and said he didn’t realize he had committed a
crime, “I didn’t think about it till now.”
Ray Hsieh was one of two inmates Myers had tortured
that very same week. According to Sgt. Mennenga, Myers
later joked about torturing inmates, “I have had to Taser
somebody twice within the past week, they might start
thinking I am getting trigger happy.” Myers had also used a
Taser on inmate Michael Alexander that same week. He
even bragged to Mennenga, “it seems like I am the only
one with enough balls to use the Taser.”
On September 19, 2005, Sgt. Myers also used a Taser
on Trina Fairley, a Black woman who was one month pregnant.
But Myers’ use of Tasers and torture goes back even
further, to an incident with Michael Rich a year before the
Sergeant was turned in.
On November 6, 2004, just days after George W. Bush was
reelected, Michael Rich was picked up by Urbana police at
the Canopy Club. This was Rich’s first visit to Urbana-
Champaign. He had come down from Chicago to go to a
show with some friends. Staff at the Canopy Club called
the police on Rich, claiming he was drunk and had failed
to pay admission. Rich admits he had a few drinks that
night but says he sobered up quickly after the police
arrived. In the report, Urbana police officer Daniel Bailey
writes that the staff member at the Canopy Club, “said
Rich was just verbally abusive and not physically” (Case
no. UU0407560).
Rich told me he was still reeling from Bush’s reelection
when he had his encounter with Myers. A 21 year-old,
long-haired college student from Northern Illinois University,
Rich was rebellious but not ignorant of his rights. Rich
says when he entered the jail he still had not been read his
Miranda rights. When he asked what his charges were, the
response was “shut the fuck up.” He called Myers a “fascist,”
and Myers proved Rich’s observation to be true. Sgt.
Myers grabbed Rich by his hair and slammed his head
repeatedly into a wall. He told Rich, “This is the way we do
things down here.”
Already in handcuffs, Rich was placed in a restraint
chair, what the police call being “hog-tied.” A hood was
placed over his head while Sgt. Myers and another correctional
officer who Rich could not identify took turns hitting
him in the back of the head with an open hand. As
they were beating him, Rich asked how they were going to
explain his bloody condition. The unidentified officer said,
“You came in here like that.”
In the supplemental report authored by Sgt. Myers it
states, “Mr. Rich was bleeding from his mouth area from
the altercation he had prior to coming to the jail” (Case no.
Ironically, also present were Jeremy Heath and Joshua
Jones, the same two officers who turned in Myers a year
later. This time Heath went along with Myers, even helping
to cover up his torture and abuse. Heath wrote in his
report on Rich, “his lip was bleeding a little when UPD
brought him in.”
After leaving Rich tied up for some time, Sgt. Myers
returned to take him out of the restraint chair and
uncuffed his hands. Rich immediately grabbed the hood,
which was soaked in blood. Myers screamed at him to let
it go, but Rich refused, believing the bloody hood was evidence
of the beating. Myers drew his Taser gun and fired it
at Rich, who fell to the ground. Myers, who is six feet,
three inches tall and nearly 300 pounds, climbed on top of
Rich. According to a complaint filed by Rich:
“Sgt. Myers then tasered me in the upper left side of
my back and I fell to the ground. He then dropped to the
ground and began tasering me in my chest and arms and I
gave up and turned over onto my stomach so he could
cuff me. He then tried to push the taser in the crack of my
butt and I rolled back onto my side and pushed Sgt.
Myers off me.”
This account is included in a formal complaint Rich
filed with Sheriff Dan Walsh’s office, which I acquired from
Rich himself. The complaint was filed in May 2005. Captain
James Young wrote a letter to Rich dated August 3,
2005 in which he replied, “I have determined that the
force used in controlling you while in the booking area
was justified.” Nevertheless, Rich met personally with Dan
Walsh in late August and the Sheriff told him he would
investigate the case. Walsh apparently did nothing.
Rich wishes to see Myers fully prosecuted and is willing
to testify in the case against Myers. Still, Rich wonders why
he was not asked to identify the second officer who participated
in his beating. He was later contacted by Civil Division
Assistant States Attorney Susan McGrath who offered
him a cash settlement contingent upon his not pressing
charges against Myers. Just recently, in July 2005, Rich had
all the charges against him dropped.
Not only did Sgt. Myers physically abuse Rich, put him
in a hood, but he tried to sodomize him with a Taser. This
kind of sadistic behavior, the practice of hooding prisoners,
has been banned by an Army Field Manual recently
released by the Pentagon and is officially prohibited in the
now notorious prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo
Bay. Are we going to let this be tolerated in our local jails?
Rich was just one semester from finishing his B.A. at
Northern Illinois University, but after the November incident, subsequent court dates, and personal
trauma, Rich was expelled from
school. His life was literally ruined by Sgt.
Myers. Will State’s Attorney Julia Rietz,
who often speaks on conservative talk
radio about her concern for victim’s rights,
ensure that Michael Rich sees justice?
I have personally brought these documents
to the attention of Assistant State’s
Attorney Steve Ziegler, who is handling the
Myers case. We will see if Rietz’s office fully
prosecutes Sgt. Myers or if he receives a plea
bargain with no time served. Rietz herself is
married to an Urbana police officer, an obvious
conflict of interest in prosecuting cases.
If the treatment of Urbana officer Kurt Hjort,
who escaped prosecution for his alleged rape
of a 25 year-old woman, is an indication of
the special favors accorded to law enforcement
officers in this community, we can
expect no real punishment for Sgt. Myers.
What if Sgt. Myers had tortured a U of I
student? What if Officer Hjort would have
raped a 25 year-old woman attending the
U of I and not a gas station attendant?
What will it take before we as a community
are disturbed enough to take action?
Often, we refuse to believe that the
those who are hired to “serve and protect”
could beat citizens and falsify police
reports to justify their abuses. The Myers
story shows that this occurs regularly and
is covered up by fellow officers.
To avoid a civil law suit, Ray Hsieh was paid
an undisclosed amount of up to $10,000 and
his charges were dropped. We cannot let them
buy us all off. We can no longer be silent. With
over 2.3 million people in our jails and prisons,
with massive overcrowding, abuse is predictable.
Both at home and overseas, the United
States is creating a culture of imprisonment that
betrays the intentions of the founding fathers
who wished to create a democracy where “cruel
and unusual punishment” is a thing of the past.
This story is largely based on public
court documents. For more information
search the Circuit Clerk website

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
This entry was posted in Human Rights, Prisoners. Bookmark the permalink.

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