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Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 07:46 am

Larry Washington civil-rights lawsuit declared mistrial

Cash-strapped city will pursue another trial in spring

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Larry Washington says in a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed in March 2007 that city of Springfield police officers conspired to violate his constitutional rights by illegally searching his home and planting cocaine.
PHOTO BY DUSTY RHODES

After U.S. District Judge Jeanne Scott declared a mistrial last week in the federal civil-rights lawsuit Washington et al v. City of Springfield et al, both parties say they plan to pursue another trial next year.

Larry Washington and Jennifer Jenkins filed suit in March 2007 against the city of Springfield and several police officers, accusing them of conspiracy and false arrest. The pair was arrested in March 2005 after detectives Paul Carpenter and Jim Graham found plastic bags with purported cocaine residue in their trash and used them to obtain a search warrant, which resulted in a raid on their home and detective J.T. Wooldridge’s discovery of a half-kilo of cocaine in graham-cracker boxes in their kitchen. Washington alleged that the drugs were planted.

After the plastic bags tested negative for narcotics, charges against Washington and Jenkins were dropped. Carpenter and Graham were fired in October 2006 after an Illinois State Police investigation determined that they had repeatedly violated SPD policies [see “Springfield’s worst nightmare,” Feb. 15, 2007].

The city of Springfield, according to communications director Ernie Slottag, has spent nearly $340,000 through November in defending Wooldridge and in paying private law firms Brown, Hay and Stephens to defend Carpenter and Heyl, Royster, Voelker and Allen to defend Graham. Slottag says the city is working toward retrying the case.

“We decided to move forward and defend the officers,” Slottag says. “We went to trial on that basis.”

In November 2008, the Springfield City Council approved an ordinance authorizing up to $400,000 in spending for outside counsel in the case. Slottag says aldermen may have to approve more money for the second trial.

Mayor Tim Davlin recently announced that Springfield faces an estimated $8.5 to $12 million deficit for the next budget year, which begins March 1. When asked if the city’s economic crisis was factored into the decision to pursue another trial, Slottag told Illinois Times: “We always do a risk-benefit analysis of each case. Economics is always an issue.”

Gregory Kulis, a Chicago attorney representing Washington and Jenkins, says his attempts to settle the case with the city have been brushed off.

“The city of Springfield keeps on paying these [attorneys],” Kulis says. “I can’t force anyone to sit down and talk. No one wants to discuss settlement. So as far as I’m concerned, we’re trying this case as soon as we pick a new date.”

Scott declared a mistrial in the case on Dec. 2 after only one day of testimony due to one juror’s complaint that other jurors had made discriminatory comments.

Kulis says he didn’t believe his clients would get a fair trial from the jury and asked not only for a mistrial, but that the case be transferred to Chicago to draw a more diverse jury pool.

“When we paneled the jury and looked at potential jurors, not one person was a minority out of 42,” Kulis says. “But what could I do at that point? We’ve plodded along, picked a jury and ended up with this panel.”

According to rules for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, the Springfield division pulls jurors from 17 counties: Adams, Brown, Cass, Christian, DeWitt, Greene, Logan, Macoupin, Mason, Menard, Montgomery, Morgan, Pike, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott and Shelby.
Scott granted the mistrial, but denied Kulis’ request for a change of venue. Both Kulis and Slottag confirm that a new trial will convene in Springfield in the spring.

The city of Springfield, retired Deputy Chief William Rouse, retired Lt. Rickey Davis and officer Steve Welsh were also originally named in Washington and Jenkins’s lawsuit, but were dismissed from the case by Scott in June.  

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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