Sgt. Myers Given Probation: Torture of Inmates Goes Unpunished by State’s Attorney

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Former Sergeant William Alan Myers
pleaded guilty to charges of felony disorderly
conduct and misdemeanor aggravated
battery on Monday, October 26.
Charges of felony obstruction of justice
and felony aggravated battery were
dropped. He received two years probation, a $500 fine,
and 100 hours community service.
On November 14, 2005, Sgt. Myers illegally used a
taser on inmate Ray Hsieh and falsified a report about the
incident. Myers tased Hsieh four times while he was fully
restrained in a chair with his wrists and ankles tied (See
case file 05-CF-2105).
This is the third cop in less than two years whose abuse
of power has gone unpunished since State’s Attorney Julia
Rietz took office. Rietz was elected in 2004 to stop the corruption
that had become routine under the previous
administration of John Piland.
In July 2005, Urbana officer Kurt Hjort was accused of
rape by a 25-year-old woman. Hjort was fired from the
force, but he was never charged and did not spend a single
night in jail. Rietz had claimed a conflict of interest in the
case (her husband Al Johnston is on the Urbana police
force) and passed it to Judge Tom Difanis (whose daughter
is also on the Urbana police force). Difanis gave the case to
special prosecutor Jim Dedman, an Urbana attorney. Even
former Urbana Police Chief Eddie Adair said he wondered
why the case was not sent out of the county.
Dedman looked at the evidence and said he could not
prove Hjort guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Dedman
told the News-Gazette, “of great significance to me is the fact
that Kurt Hjort has resigned his position with the Urbana
Police Department” (10/18/2005). This sent the message
that Hjort had suffered enough because he lost his job.
Although frequently appearing on conservative talk
radio, Rietz took no public stance against Dedman’s decision
or on behalf of the rape victim.
In November 2005, Champaign County sheriff’s
deputy Ryan Garrett lost his job after threatening his
estranged wife and her boyfriend. Garrett had told Ty Kellums,
“I’m a cop. Watch your back” (06-CF-136). Garrett’s
wife alleged a history of physical and mental abuse. Garrett
pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense and received
a two years conditional discharge. He did one night in jail.
Garrett was represented by Tony Novak, the attorney who
also defended Sgt. Myers.
In all three of these incidents, the rogue police officer did little
or no jail time. The loss of their job was considered enough
punishment for their serious breach of public safety. The press
release by Myers’s attorney Tony Novak is revealing:
“Alan Myers was a Champaign County Correctional
Officer for over 13 years. In November 2005, he was a
sergeant and shift commander. It is a thankless job.
“Pursuant to his duty, he was attempting to control an
extremely disruptive inmate through use of a taser. He
failed to follow protocol and then attempted to cover up
his violation, ultimately admitting the false report as contained
in the charge of Disorderly Conduct.
“The guilty plea to the misdemeanor battery charge
was a compromise of a very close question of whether
Alan Myers’s use of the taser went beyond what was necessary
to control an extremely disruptive, mentally unbalanced
“Alan and I decided it was in his best interest to
accept the plea agreement although he has paid a heavy
price in that he is unlikely to ever work in law enforcement
Drawing attention to the length of Myers’s employment,
and his service to the public for what is a difficult job, Novak
says that Myers has paid heavily for his abuses. The suggestion
is that Myers suffered enough because he lost his job.
Of course, if you or I, the average citizen, were caught
stealing money at our job, or if we committed aggravated
battery against an individual, we would not only loose our
job, we would do some jail time. Because of the police officer’s
unique position of power, the expectations of them to
uphold the law are not higher, but actually lower than the
ordinary citizen.
The 8th Amendement protects the public from “cruel and
unusual punishment.” This is one of the cornerstones of
the American Constitution and what makes it such a radical
document. It says that even the worst criminals in our
society still have basic human rights. Myers’s attorney
Tony Novak makes it clear that inmate Ray Hsieh, even
though he may have been mentally imbalanced, was being
disruptive and deserved what he got.
The Constitution apparently has no jurisdiction in the
remote cornfields of downstate Illinois.
Investigations conducted by the Sheriff’s Department
revealed that Myers had wrongly tased three other inmates.
African American inmate Michael Alexander was tased on
November 12, 2005 just two days before the incident with
Ray Hsieh. On September 19, 2005, Sgt. Myers also used a
taser on Trina Fairley, a pregnant African American woman.
But the most glaring incident occurred on November 6,
2004 when Myers used a taser on 21 year-old white student
from Chicago, Michael Rich. Rich alleges that Myers
slammed his head against a cell wall, put him in a restraint
chair, beat him, then after letting him out of restraints,
Tased him four times. Myers then falsified the report on
Rich (S-2004-5123).
After looking at these documents, the State’s Attorney
could not find any evidence that Myers conducted any
“great bodily harm” and he was given a misdemeanor
charge of aggravated battery, rather than a felony. No additional
charges were brought against Myers for the three
other incidents.
Myers’s lawyer Tony Novak said, “There was no torture here.“
The definition of torture defined in the International
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman,
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), to which
the U.S. is a signatory, is as follows:
“The term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain
or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally
inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from
him or a third person information or a confession, punishing
him for an act he or a third person has committed or is
suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or a
third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of
any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at
the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a
public official or other person acting in an official capacity.“
The international standards of torture also apparently
do not apply in Champaign County.
The prosecutor, Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Ziegler,
said that Myers “pleaded guilty to what he did.” Ziegler
would not answer my questions: Why did he not pursue
felony aggravated battery against Myers? Why he did not
file additional charges against Myers for falsifying a police
report on Michael Rich? Why did he not call Trina Fairley?
I was able to get in contact with Fairley and she told me
she was never even contacted by the State’s Attorney.
Michael Alexander, Trina Fairley, and Michael Rich all
filed formal complaints against Myers. In August 2005,
Sheriff Dan Walsh met with Rich and told him he would
look into Myers. He did nothing and three other people
were abused. The day of Myers’s plea bargain, Sheriff Dan
Walsh was tight-lipped and had no comment.
Sheriff Dan Walsh, Julia Rietz, and others will be at a
public forum on March 13, 2007 titled, “Introduction to
the Champaign County Criminal Justice System.” This will
be a rare opportunity to demand some answers from public
officials about the handling of the Sgt. Myers case.
For more on Sgt. Myers see the Oct. 2006 and Dec.
2006/Jan. 2007 issues of the Public i.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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