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Thursday, March 8, 2018 12:20 am

Cop charged in beating may get a break

Former Springfield cop Samuel Rosario might become a defendant in a new court established to handle

Sangamon County State's Attorney John Milhiser
charges against veterans.

The Seventh Judicial Circuit on Monday got Supreme Court clearance to set up a court designed to help veterans instead of treating them as ordinary criminals. A law that took effect in January requires such courts throughout Illinois.

Sources confirmed that Rosario’s case may be diverted to the new court, which has yet to convene. State’s attorney John Milhiser, a candidate to become U.S. attorney in Springfield, will neither confirm nor deny that he’s considering such a move.

The case has everything no ambitious prosecutor wants. Allegations of racism and police brutality. A community split between those who say Rosario should be prosecuted so that he can never again wear a badge, and those who see extenuating circumstances. Plus more than 1.8 million views of a YouTube video that shows Rosario repeatedly punching Robert Humes, who was then 19, after challenging him to “throw hands.”

“Is your camera on?” Humes asked before Rosario first chest bumped, then pummeled him in February of last year. “You see that red dot?” Rosario replied, referring to his body camera. “It’s on. It’s on. It’s on with your scary ass.”

Humes had raised Rosario’s ire with a stream of critical banter while police were responding to a call on East Stuart Street in Springfield. “That’s the mouth of the south,” observed Humes’ mother, who stood nearby while her son hurled insults and f-bombs at Rosario, who responded in kind.

Before throwing hands, Rosario promised Humes that he wouldn’t be arrested, and he offered to put his gun in his car. This was no back-alley beating. Humes got his butt kicked in a front yard while neighbors watched fuck-you’s devolve into fisticuffs. “That little kid across the street is ready to whip your ass, so don’t even try, man,” Rosario said after the blows ended and Humes loudly demanded another crack at the officer.

Later in his shift, Rosario returned to Humes’ home and apologized. Humes said everything was cool, and the two spoke as if friends. Humes praised Rosario when police visited later that evening to take photos of his face, saying that the cop who’d beaten him up deserved a promotion.

Rosario never worked another shift. He was fired last May, after being charged with official misconduct and battery. Now, sources say, Milhiser is mulling meetings with civic leaders prior to deciding whether Rosario, who was an Army reserve sergeant when he joined the force in 2015, should be moved to the new veterans court. Suzann Maxheimer, Seventh Circuit trial court administrator, said the first session could be held as early as next week. Defendants in other veterans courts typically plead guilty and are placed on probation while undergoing treatment or otherwise completing programs. They can have convictions expunged if they successfully complete probation.

Does Rosario deserve a break? Depends on whom you ask – disagreements begin with whether he did anything wrong in the first place.

Humes’ sister, who saw the whole thing, told internal affairs investigators that Rosario acted appropriately, noting that her brother was mouthy and had pointed a stick at the officer. But Humes, notwithstanding statements he made within hours of the fight, told internal investigators that Rosario was in the wrong. Humes’ mother also blamed the officer.

Teresa Haley, president of the Springfield NAACP, says that she was reminded of Rodney King when she saw the video. “We want to see him prosecuted and convicted,” Haley said. “If he gets off on it, it sends a signal to others that they can get away with it as well. And create racial tensions in our community. … Not only did he harm this kid, it harmed our community.”

Haley acknowledges that Humes was out of line by berating Rosario, but that’s no excuse. “No one would want to see their child or family member abused like that, regardless of the situation,” Haley says. “I also believe the officer egged the situation on. Throw hands? If you’re an adult, you don’t fight with children.” If Humes had been white, Haley doesn’t think there would have been a fight. “I don’t think it would have happened – I don’t think it would have happened to that extreme,” she says.

That’s nonsense, counters Kelvin Coburn, chairman of the city’s Police Community Review Commission, which is charged with reviewing complaints against cops but hasn’t heard a case since Coburn was appointed by Mayor Jim Langfelder last year. “It was a matter of bravado, not race,” Coburn says. “That’s what we call it in the hood: a shot at the title.”

Haley dismisses post-fight videos that show Humes praising Rosario. “I think that comes from the young kid being afraid and trying to soothe over the situation, and lack of knowledge, and nerves,” she opines. But Coburn, who says that Rosario shouldn’t have been fired, draws a different conclusion. “I saw the video,” he says. “I saw the escalation. I saw the reconciliation. I was fine with it. … That’s a young man in an urban area who didn’t press charges. He knew what he was getting into.” If Rosario stands trial, Coburn predicts he’ll be fine, so long as he gets the right jury.

“If you get six old-school police officers and six black men who understand the black community and street life, he walks,” Coburn says.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com

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