The DUI Case of Former Police Officer Lisa Staples

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Although it was 2008 when off-duty
Champaign police detective Lisa Staples
was caught driving drunk in an
unmarked squad car, only recently were
police reports describing the incident
obtained. Many were outraged when
Staples was given a lighter punishment
than other DUI cases in Champaign County, but the public
was kept from knowing the extent of her intoxication
or the embarrassing details of her arrest. This case and
others have led to a campaign for stricter drug and alcohol
testing for Champaign police officers.
In March 2009, I sent a FOIA request for police reports
on the Staples case to the Illinois State Police. Notorious
for their denials of public information, the state police
summarily denied my request. After new FOIA legislation
took effect in Illinois on January 1, 2010, I re-submitted
my request. Now forced to obey the law, the state police
handed over their records.
According to a report written by Illinois State Police
Sergeant B.K. Ingram, he responded to a call at approximately
2:30 a.m. on Sunday, November 30, 2008. Several
drivers had spotted a car going the wrong way, travelling
westbound in eastbound traffic, on Interstate 72. It was a
cold night, it was snowing, and there was ice on the road.
A Piatt County deputy stopped the gray 2007 Nissan
Altima, found out that it was owned by the Champaign
Police Department, and the driver was Lisa Staples, an offduty
police officer. The Illinois State Police were called for
assistance. When Sergeant Ingram arrived, he approached
the car and asked Staples to open the locked door. When
Staples opened the door, Ingram says he, “immediately
smelled an overwhelming odor of alcoholic liquor coming
from inside the Nissan.”
Asked to exit the car, Staples got out and stood up,
“fumbling forward.” She did not know where she was. She
was dressed in a long sleeve shirt, blue jeans, and fuzzy
pink house slippers. According to Ingram, “It appeared
Staples had urinated in her pants as the crotch of her jeans
was soaking wet.” When Ingram said that it looked like
she had wet her pants, Staples replied, “I probably did. I’m
sorry.” Ingram writes in his report, “I observed the front of
her jeans was completely unfastened and slightly pulled
down, exposing her panties. I brought Staples’ attention to
this and asked her to fasten her pants.”
Staples was also rambling incoherently. When Ingram
asked where her driver’s license was, she said, “Um, I’m
sorry. It’s probably on my person which is not on my person,
which is correct.” She was eventually given a ticket
for not carrying a driver’s licence.
Staples refused to take a field sobriety test or a breath test
and was immediately placed under arrest. Ingram states that
he put her in handcuffs and before putting her into the squad
car, “placed several layers of paper towel on the passenger
seat.” At the Champaign County jail, Ingram read Staples her
Miranda rights. She began laughing and joked that she was
waiving her rights, “as she waved her raised arms side to side.”
Other reports filled out by Ingram noted that Staples
was “swaying,” “staggering,” and “stumbling.” Although
she told other police she only had “three drinks,” she
admitted to Ingram that she was “fucked up.”
Although being issued a DUI while driving a department
vehicle was grounds for termination, Staples was placed on
administrative leave with pay while an internal investigation
was conducted. Because of her working relationship
with the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s Office, the
case was assigned to special prosecutor Tony Lee, a former
State’s Attorney in Ford County. Unlike Champaign County,
where first-time DUI offenders lose their license, in Ford
County offenders are often only sentenced to court supervision.
Staples’ attorney Ed Piraino and Tony Lee worked out
a deal where Staples only got supervision.
At a hearing on December 18 before Judge Richard
Klaus, Piraino and Lee both agreed that this arrangement
would allow Staples to keep her job as a police officer. As
Piraino said, “If she can’t drive, she can’t be a police officer.”
Judge Klaus accepted the deal and Staples pleaded
guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence. She
was allowed to keep her driver’s license and therefore
remain on the force. Her punishment was 18 months of
court supervision, 250 hours of public service, a $750
fine, and she was required to wear an alcohol-monitoring
bracelet. As part of her public service, she was allowed to
give lectures to high school students about the dangers of
drunk driving. If these terms were completed, the case
could be expunged, and she would have a clean record.
On December 19, the day after the plea was accepted,
Elizabeth Drewes was driving drunk going the wrong
direction on Insterstate 74, struck a minivan, and killed
bride-to-be Brittany Babb. The parallels between this tragic
story and the Staples case could not be ignored by the
public. Dozens of letters poured in to the News-Gazette
complaining about the “sweatheart deal” given to Staples.
Local defence attorneys who deal with DUI cases protested
the unequal treatment.
After six months, Staples tampered with her alcoholmonitoring
bracelet disabling it for 24 hours. In most
cases, such a violation would result in immediate arrest or
further punitive consequences, however, this former
police officer was not penalized in any way.
On January 7, 2009, Lisa Staples handed in her resignation
letter to the Champaign Police Department, surely the
result of public pressure. Police Chief R.T. Finney told the
News-Gazette it was her decision, “Lisa was a very good
detective and employee. That’s what makes it so tough.”
Many studies have shown that the rate of alcoholism
among police officers is higher than the general public. The
irony here is that police are required to arrest drunk drivers,
conduct sweeps at local bars for underage drinking, and
hand out tickets for public drunkenness. Indeed, many of
the offenders police deal with on a daily basis are under the
influence of alcohol. Moreover, police are called on to prosecute
a “War on Drugs” which has sent hundreds of thousands
of citizens to prison for drug charges.
The Staples case is one of many involving alcohol and
local police. On New Year’s night 2001, University of Illinois
police officer Collin Jay Harmon killed himself while
drinking beers with fellow officers and playing a game of
Russian Roulette. In 2008, another UIPD officer, Curtis
Bolding, resigned after choking his wife and threatening to
kill her while he was in a drunken fit.
Recently, there have been a number of high-profile cases
in Chicago of off-duty police officers who were caught on
video beating up citizens while drunk. Chicago police officer
Anthony Abbate was fired after beating up a female bartender,
video of which can be seen on YouTube. As a result
of these cases, Chicago City Council ratified changes to the
police union contract requiring that lieutenants and captains
undergo more stringent drug and alcohol testing.
Locally, Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice
is circulating a similar proposal. Among the changes is
a requirement for mandatory drug and alcohol testing
when a police officer is directly involved in an incident
which results in death or great bodily harm or if the officer
has fired his or her weapon. A campaign for this and other
revisions to the police union contract comes in the wake
of the death of Kiwane Carrington at the hands of a
Champaign police officer.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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