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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 12:57 am

"Just a tool"

Records show SPD detectives misstated, misunderstood facts in Munoz case

When Springfield Police detectives wanted to question Thomas Munoz in connection with the beating of a Catholic priest, they got a warrant to arrest him for attempted burglary of a church so they could bring him into their offices for questioning.

“All’s it is is just a tool,” Detective Rick Dhabalt told an SPD internal affairs investigator. “We needed probable cause established . . . to get the arrest warrant. That’s what we did. . . . That’s the tool we need to use to bring Thomas Munoz to our house to interview him.”

Munoz was subsequently cleared of both crimes. Two other individuals confessed to the Dec. 21, 2004, beating of Monsignor Eugene Costa, and charges were dismissed on the attempted burglary of St. Jude Catholic Church in Rochester after the officers failed to provide additional evidence.

However, because Munoz was then on parole, his arrest caused him to be sent back to prison for 70 days. Soon after his release, he filed an internal affairs complaint and later a lawsuit against the detectives, claiming false arrest.

On July 13, the city filed a motion for summary judgment, citing Munoz’s deposition testimony that the detectives had what appeared to be a legitimate reason to arrest him. Last week, Munoz, who has no attorney, filed a rambling response to the city’s motion but attached exhibits showing that the officers misunderstood or misstated facts in his case. The documents also show that the internal affairs investigation overlooked these inconsistencies. In April, SPD Chief Don Kliment exonerated the detectives, despite a recommendation by their supervisor that they receive three days’ suspension.

Two of the detectives, Paul Carpenter and Jim Graham, have been on paid administrative leave for more than seven months while Illinois State Police investigate a variety of allegations of misconduct. Prosecutors have declined to press criminal charges against the cops.

In Munoz’s case, Graham filed the criminal complaint, and Carpenter handled the actual arrest. They were assisting Dhabalt, who was assigned to investigate the attack on Costa — a priest found badly beaten in Douglas Park just before Christmas 2004. The clearest explanation of how Munoz became the focus of police attention is contained in a three-page report written by Dhabalt.

The report is dated Nov. 7, 2005 — almost a year after the events detailed in the document, several months after Munoz filed his internal affairs complaint and more than two weeks after he filed his lawsuit.

Dhabalt wrote that when he went to the offices of the Diocese of Springfield on Dec. 27, 2004, to examine Costa’s computer for clues, Monsignor John Renken told him that he should look for Munoz because he had “been causing some trouble for the church.” Renken told Dhabalt that several churches had experienced thefts and that Munoz was a suspect in those cases. Renken also said Munoz had “recently tried to break into St. Jude’s Church in Rochester.”

According to his report, Dhabalt followed up by calling Ray Roth, a deacon at St. Jude’s who was listed as a witness in a “suspicious person” report taken by Rochester police after Munoz was seen trying to enter the church during Mass on Dec. 18. When Roth confronted him, Munoz said he had a poinsettia for the priest, went to his car and retrieved a plant, and gave it to Roth.

Dhabalt wrote that Roth, whom he describes as a “prison guard,” told him pry marks were found on the doors Munoz had tried to open. But the Rochester report never mentioned any pry marks.

Rochester Police Chief Bill Marass said he told both Dhabalt and Carpenter that there had been a previous attempted burglary, about a week before Munoz was seen at the church. The report of that Dec. 8, 2004, incident details several pry marks on interior doors.

When contacted by Illinois Times, Roth said he didn’t know whether any pry marks were made on Dec. 18. “That’s two different occasions and two different issues,” he said. He also clarified that he is not a prison guard but, rather, chief engineer of the Taylorville Correctional Center. He also said that no investigator from SPD internal affairs ever contacted him.

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