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Monday, April 7, 2014 09:56 am

Christian pleads guilty

Says plea won’t affect lawsuit

Calvin Christian III

 

Calvin Christian III says that Springfield police have harassed him for no good reason.

But Christian recently pleaded guilty to charges of reckless driving and fleeing police that he cites in a federal lawsuit as examples of harassment that began when he filed complaints against officers and sued the city to gain access to internal affairs files. The federal lawsuit was filed last year.

The guilty plea came March 28, three days before Christian was scheduled for a jury trial. The plea was one of at least seven guilty pleas made that day by Christian, who has received 120 traffic citations, mostly from Springfield police, since 2007.

In his federal lawsuit against the city, Christian says that citations he received for fleeing police, reckless driving and not having a valid license on June 2, 2012, were the result of an “illegal stop” by two officers, including Michelle Awe, who had been the subject of a complaint he had filed previously that resulted in discipline against the officer.

“There was no probable cause or any other legal justification to stop and seize plaintiff,” attorneys for Christian say in his lawsuit.

But Christian on March 28 pleaded guilty as charged to reckless driving and fleeing police that resulted from the stop nearly two years ago. Charges of driving without a license and without insurance that resulted from the same stop remain pending.

It was an expensive day in court for Christian, who was hit with $2,536 in fines and court costs by Sangamon County associate judge Brian Otwell, who granted court supervision to Christian in at least four cases, according to Sangamon County Circuit Court records. Also on March 28 prosecutors dismissed a charge of driving without insurance that stemmed from a January traffic stop, according to court records, but Christian pleaded guilty to charges of driving with a revoked license and having an illegally tinted window that stemmed from the same encounter with city police.

Nathan Mihelich, spokesman for Mayor Mike Houston, hailed Christian’s pleas as “solidifying” the city’s case in the federal lawsuit.

“When he recently pleaded guilty to some of the dozens of traffic cases he has amassed, it signified an acceptance-of-responsibility and confirmed the propriety and correctness of the police officers’ actions,” Mihelich said in a written statement. “As these and other tickets progress through the criminal justice system, we believe all of our officers will be vindicated.”

Christian said that he pleaded guilty on advice of attorneys who represented him in the traffic cases.

“(O)n the advice of both of my attorneys, it was the best deal in order for me to keep my (driver’s) license and make sure that I don’t go to jail and continue the federal case,” Christian said.

Christian said that attorneys who represent him in the federal lawsuit are aware of his guilty pleas and that the pleas won’t affect the federal matter. More cases could be tacked onto the pending federal lawsuit, he said.

“Additional officers will be added to the lawsuit in the future,” Christian said.

State’s attorney John Milhiser could not be reached for comment. But defense attorney Mark Wykoff, who is representing Christian in several traffic cases, said that his client pled guilty to the most serious charges without any prior agreement on penalties because prosecutors refused to negotiate a plea on any of the cases. The driving without insurance charge dismissed by prosecutors on March 28 was eliminated because Christian was able to prove that the car he was driving had been insured, Wykoff said. He added that he had hoped to reach a deal with prosecutors to resolve all pending traffic cases against Christian, who still faces dozens of charges such as improper lane usage, illegal transportation of alcohol and using an electronic device while driving, with the latest ticket written on March 26, just two days before his guilty pleas.

“They weren’t willing to entertain a negotiated disposition for all of the matters or, quite frankly, even a portion of the matters,” Wykoff said. “He accepted responsibility for the most egregious of the transgressions.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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