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Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 12:01 am

Coach has a past

Lanphier basketball coach’s record includes 11 arrests

 Blake L. Turner, coach of the top-ranked Lanphier High School boy’s basketball team, has a criminal record stretching back to 1995 that includes at least 11 arrests on suspicion of battery, illegal gun possession, drug violations and other crimes.

Turner’s most recent run-in with the law in Sangamon County occurred in 2007, when he was charged with aggravated battery, a felony, for hitting a man with a Dodge Charger automobile. He ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor battery and agreed to pay more than $73,000 in restitution to the victim, whose injuries were serious enough that he was taken to St. John’s Hospital. It’s not clear how much Turner, 37, might still owe, but in 2010, Davis filed court paperwork indicating that the judgment had not been satisfied.

It was the second time that Turner, whose mother is Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner, had been prosecuted for an incident involving a car. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to reckless conduct, a misdemeanor, for driving a car into a yard where he struck a person and nearly hit three others. In 2002, he was charged with domestic battery and property damage after allegedly striking a woman in the head. Charges were dismissed. That same year, Turner pleaded guilty to damaging property – a door – in an unrelated case and received court supervision.

Also in 2002, police in Hunt County, Texas, arrested Turner for possessing more than 5 pounds of marijuana, a felony. Eight months after the arrest, Turner was granted deferred adjudication on the charge that included a requirement that he spend 90 days in jail and perform community service. In 2006, he was extradited from Illinois to Texas as a fugitive from justice because he had violated probation, according to court records. The nature of the violation isn’t clear, nor is it clear how much time Turner might have served.

The Texas arrest does not appear to have interfered with Turner’s employment as a systems analyst for the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which hired him in 2000 after he graduated from Kansas Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. There has been no gap in employment, according to payroll records, and Turner now earns more than $93,000 a year in his state job, up considerably from the $60,000 he was making in 2006, when a DHFS employee who filled out a garnishment calculation worksheet determined that he did not have sufficient funds to deduct anything from his paycheck to satisfy a judgment in favor of National Rent To Own. The company sued to collect more than $1,000 Turner allegedly owed for a used dinette set.

The Springfield School District hired Turner as a varsity assistant and junior varsity basketball coach at Lanphier for the 2007-08 season. Before the season began, prosecutors in September 2007 charged Turner with felony battery for hitting James Davis with a car in the case that ultimately resulted in a misdemeanor conviction and the $73,000 restitution order. Davis was also charged with felony property damage in the case and, like Turner, ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.

Springfield police had not responded by press time to a request for reports pertaining to Turner, but state’s attorney John Milhiser, after reviewing files, said that Davis, who was accused of damaging Turner’s car before Turner struck him with the vehicle, agreed to the reduced charge. Turner was arrested on suspicion of battery in that case six months after prosecutors dismissed charges of misdemeanor marijuana possession, possession of drug paraphernalia and possessing a .44-caliber handgun and ammunition without a FOID card. Milhiser, who became state’s attorney in 2010, said that he doesn’t know why prosecutors dismissed the drug and gun charges that stemmed from an arrest in January 2006, one month before Turner was arrested for a probation violation and waived extradition to Texas.

Turner, a starring guard on the Lanphier basketball team while in high school, was also arrested in 2005 on suspicion of domestic battery and resisting arrest, according to Sangamon County jail records, but no charges were filed.

Why did the Springfield School District hire someone who had been arrested nearly a dozen times and was facing a felony battery charge during his first season as a Lanphier coach?

A district spokeswoman said that interim superintendent Bob Hill was in meetings and not available for comment. Illinois Times tried reaching Turner via telephone and email but received no response.

Turner went from assistant to head coach in 2012, and the Lanphier basketball team, undefeated through last weekend, is now ranked number one in the state by the Associated Press. The district’s top administrator talked about wins when the school board made Turner the head coach after the team went 28-5 in the 2011-12 season after years of mediocrity.

“We believe his major contributions really have allowed the team that we have (to be) ranked number one in the state – that really comes from (Turner’s) efforts,” then district superintendent Walter Milton said at the school board meeting in July, 2012, when the board picked Turner to lead the team.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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