After Fatal Shootings, Rantoul Police Recommended More Training: They Sent One Officer to a Gun Range

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A version of this article originally appeared on IPM Newsroom on February 5, 2024. It has been edited for space and style. See the full version on the Public i’s website. This story is part of a partnership between the Champaign-Urbana Civic Police Data Project of the Invisible Institute and IPM Newsroom, and was supported with funding from the Data-Driven Reporting Project.

After Rantoul’s first-ever fatal police shootings in 2023, the Rantoul Police Department (RPD) conducted internal reviews of both incidents.

In those internal reviews, the Use of Force Review Board—made up of different members in each incident—recommended further training for both the department and individual officers after absolving all but one officer of wrongdoing in both cases: the February, 2023 shooting of Azaan Lee, and the June shooting of Jordan Richardson.

The RPD’s Use of Force Review Board recommended department-level trainings, including reality-based training under stress; “force-on-force” training; using control tactics from multiple positions; and a “refresher” on RPD’s use-of-force policy. However, the department has not implemented any of these trainings.

“Force-on-force” training, as defined by the department, allows officers to respond to different scenarios in a controlled environment. At RPD, this training involves officers shooting mock weapons, which help simulate what interactions with armed community members might resemble. Deputy Chief Justin Bouse said this training can help officers better prepare for what these scenarios will feel like in real life.

It’s common for departments to recommend these trainings after fatal shootings, said University of Texas at Austin sociologist Michael Sierra-Arévalo, who wrote The Danger Imperative: Violence, Death, and the Soul of Policing about police training, culture, and violence. But often those trainings aren’t feasible for small departments to implement. “I don’t think there’s any department in the country that would say they don’t want to do those things,” Sierra-Arévalo said.

Bouse said the department is trying to implement the recommended trainings this spring.

Use-of-Force Policies Often Prioritize Officers

With most police use-of-force policies, if an officer feels his or her life is in danger, then the use of force is justified, said Sierra-Arévalo. Even when departments implement training following fatal shootings, there’s no real evidence that they help. “You’re not going to train your way out of a lot of these problems,” he said. The best thing police departments can do, in his view, is to examine everything that happened leading up to a fatal shooting—not just determine whether the officer followed protocol.

RPD said the Use of Force Review Board reviews actions leading up to the use of force, de-escalation attempts, officer responses, and whether officers placed themselves in situations necessitating the use of force.

Activists, including local Rantoul resident Jayde Ray, have questioned whether both incidents needed to escalate into two fatal shootings. “I think these cases are pretty reflective of situations that didn’t need to escalate,” Ray said.

Departments should also do psychological evaluations for officers and offer mental health services and breaks from patrol after high-stress situations, Sierra-Arévalo said. The department refused to comment on whether either Officer Jerry King or Officer Jose Aceves received psychological evaluations or mental-health resources after the shootings.

One Officer Was Certified for a Weapon Two Days After Shooting

King, who shot and killed Jordan Richardson, had his gun seized as evidence for an Illinois State Police investigation. Two days after the shooting, the department sent King for firearm training at a shooting range, to certify him for a new weapon, according to documents obtained by Invisible Institute.

Although firearm qualification is standard throughout the U.S., an independent evaluation of firearm training at the New York Police Department in 2008 found that shooting-range training is not an effective way to evaluate if an officer can handle armed confrontations with community members.

While the department “recognizes the limitations of traditional shooting-range training,” Bouse said they are “actively exploring alternative training avenues.” The RPD continues to meet all state mandates for ongoing officer training, Bouse said.

A Second Officer Resigned and Was Rehired in Champaign

The department’s Use of Force Review Board did not recommend firearm training for King. However, the board did recommend training for Aceves, who shot and killed 21-year-old Azaan Lee with Lee’s gun in February. The board took that step to ensure Aceves’s use of firearms followed departmental standards, according to RPD. But he resigned just over one month after Lee’s death, and did not receive the training, according to village records. Aceves later applied to work at the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office.

Bouse noted in interviews with a Sheriff’s Office investigator about Aceves’ performance that the officer had pulled a woman from a car during a traffic stop. Bouse asserted that Aceves did not violate the department’s policies but could have “used better judgment,” according to a memo.

“Deputy Chief Justin Bouse stated Jose can perform the job of a police officer and will just need close monitoring by his FTOs [Field Training Officers] to make sure he is making the best decisions,” Champaign County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Shannon Barrett wrote. Despite this history, the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office hired Aceves that month, but he resigned two months later. The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment about Aceves’s hiring or departure.

A Third Officer Was an Instructor for Rules He Violated

The department also released a certificate showing that Officer Rene Wissel, who the board found violated the department’s use-of-force policy while arresting the driver in the Richardson shooting, completed one eight-hour de-escalation training.

Wissel violated three sections of RPD’s standards of conduct, including “unreasonable and unwarranted force, . . . exceeding lawful peace officer powers by unreasonable, unlawful, or excessive conduct” and using “obscene, indecent profane or derogatory language while on-duty.” The board also found he violated the use-of-force-policy by not de-escalating the situation.

Officer Wissel is currently an arrest and control tactics instructor at the department, Bouse said. Records show that he was certified as an instructor a month before the shooting, and was working as an instructor when he violated the department’s policies. Control tactics instructors train staff on how to apply force within the guidelines of the department’s code of conduct and use of force policies. Despite his direct violation of the policies he instructs others to follow, Wissel remains an instructor, according to RPD.

Local activist Derek Briles helped collect over 700 signatures from Champaign County residents for a petition demanding independent investigations into both shootings. Activists like Briles have questioned the bias of the department’s internal review board and the state police’s investigation—which Bouse said both found the shootings were justified and no basis for criminal charges. “They have shown absolutely zero willingness to improve, to admit that things could have been handled differently, [or] to engage with the public in any way or [take] any meaningful action following either shooting,” Briles said.

Farrah Anderson is an investigative reporting fellow with the Invisible Institute and Illinois Public Media and a journalism student at the University of Illinois.

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