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Wednesday, July 18, 2007 04:43 pm

The Holy Grail?

Why the 2,300-page ISP report is likely to raise more questions than it answers

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Untitled Document Back in December 2005, I spent several days in a Sangamon County courtroom watching a middle-aged man stand trial for possession of marijuana. Set up in a sting by a co-worker who was trying to earn “consideration” in his own drug case, this state employee — who had no history of drug use — was charged with selling less than an ounce of cannabis for $100. Riveting, right? I attended that trial for reasons too convoluted to explain, but I can tell you this much: It wasn’t because I’ve got some deep and abiding interest in seeing that people who allegedly buy “personal use” amounts of pot get sent to the big house. It also wasn’t because I was doing research for a screenplay about a modern-day band of Keystone Kops — I’m not! — though the thought occurred to me a time or two during this trial. It should have been pretty simple: The informant arranged to meet his co-worker, whom I’ll call Jones, in a public parking lot at around 9 a.m. Unbeknownst to Jones, cops were videotaping his every move — getting into the informant’s car, chatting briefly, shaking hands, returning to his own car. The entire case relied on these videotapes, because all the other evidence usually generated in a “controlled buy” was absent. For example, they had no recording of any conversation between Jones and the informant, because, as one officer testified, they didn’t have enough evidence to ask a judge for permission to conduct an “overhear.”
They had no proof that Jones had ever touched the dope, because the officers failed to send the little plastic bag of weed he allegedly sold the informant off to the lab for fingerprinting. They likewise failed to recover from Jones any of the previously photocopied $20 bills allegedly used by the informant to pay for the dope, because their plan to place him under immediate arrest failed when Jones managed to elude these five radio-equipped officers — by craftily observing the posted speed limit and obeying all traffic signals as he drove away from the parking lot. When they finally did arrest him, six days later, they failed to tape their interview with him or get him to sign a statement. So the videotapes must’ve been pretty solid, right? Wrong. One officer filmed Jones, on exiting the informant’s vehicle, putting his hand in his pocket. The officer inferred that Jones was stashing the cash but admitted under cross-examination that Jones might instead have been retrieving his car keys. Another officer testified that Jones and the informant reached down, “like, into the center console” of the car. His videotape didn’t catch this action, however, because he had put the camera on the dash of his car, where its view was obscured by another vehicle. My favorite was the videotape shot by an officer who admitted having had “technical difficulties.” He produced a haphazard montage of parking-lot pavement, dandelions, and car bumpers — everything but the supposed drug deal. The jury took four hours to eat lunch, elect a foreman, and decide that Jones was not guilty. So why am I telling you this silly story? Because the officers who pulled off this slapstick sting operation were Illinois State Police Department of Internal Investigations — the same crew that created the now-infamous and still-secret 2,300-page investigation into alleged official misconduct by former Springfield Police Department Detectives Paul Carpenter and Jim Graham. Illinois Times obtained a summary of that report in early September (council members and other media received a redacted version three weeks later), and I’ll admit — it was tawdry stuff [see Dusty Rhodes, “Above the Law,” Sept. 7, 2006]. It documented the detectives’ flouting of general orders, inappropriate relationships with homicide witnesses and unregistered informants (they were fired in October and are now fighting to get their jobs back), and supervisors’ conveniently looking the other way.
Now, every alderman and defense attorney and media minion in this town seems to have decided that if the summary was illuminating, the full report must be some kind of Holy Grail that will reveal all the problems in SPD. Just this week, a Springfield City Council committee debated an ordinance drafted specifically to get the report released, the State Journal-Register filed motions in a federal civil lawsuit to ask a judge to unseal the report, and a criminal-defense attorney asked a circuit-court judge to compel city officials to release this report. For me, though, the days I spent warming a pew watching Jones’ trial kind of sapped any excitement I might feel about this report. I’ll bet anybody a cuppa joe that when it’s released — and it will be, any day now — it will raise more questions than it answers, at least among folks familiar with the inner workings of the SPD.
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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