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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010 10:14 am

Fired cops face civil rights jury next week


Larry Washington is suing three city police officers for allegedly violating his civil rights.

Two former Springfield cops will face a jury next week in federal court for allegedly violating the civil rights of Larry Washington, the former Vice Lord gang member who was arrested in March of 2005 after Springfield police found cocaine stashed in his kitchen pantry.

The criminal case against Washington, who says the drugs were planted, was dismissed in January 2007, after a plastic bag cited in the police department’s successful efforts to obtain a search warrant failed to test positive for drugs in a second test by the Illinois State Police. Former officers Paul Carpenter and James Graham, who were both fired in 2006, allegedly field-tested the plastic bag and found cocaine residue in it after allegedly pulling it from Washington’s curbside trash the day before his March 17, 2005, arrest.

Washington is now suing Carpenter and Graham for conspiracy and false arrest, insisting that his trash was not out when the two officers said they went through it. [See “Springfield’s worst nightmare,” by Dusty Rhodes, Feb. 14, 2007.]

According to a June 2009 summary judgment by Judge Jeanne E. Scott, the defense argues that there are possible explanations for the discrepancies on which Washington’s argument is based – the original field test of the bag could have eliminated any cocaine residue and a trash hauler’s report could have meant either the trash was never on the curb or that the trash cans on the curb had already been emptied. The court, however, found those explanations inconclusive, allowing the lawsuit to continue.

Washington questions why the city, which is footing the bill for Carpenter and Graham’s attorneys, is continuing to defend the two, whom it fired in 2006 after an ISP investigation of their work practices found numerous infractions of department policy.  “Why do they [the city] not still have Graham and Carpenter still working for them … if they’re such honorable guys?” Washington asks.

The ISP investigation into Graham and Carpenter’s law enforcement methods led to the two officers’ termination. It did not include their actions in the case against Washington, which Carpenter and Graham initiated and for which Graham submitted an affidavit to obtain a search warrant for Washington’s home. Washington is also suing officer J.T. Wooldridge, who found the drugs in Washington’s pantry.

Washington’s complaints against police officers Rickey Davis, William Rouse and Steve Welsh and the city of Springfield were all dismissed in June 2009.

Spokesman for the city of Springfield Ernie Slottag says the city has paid three different law firms a total of nearly $421,700 so far to defend Carpenter, Graham and Wooldridge. Slottag says the city is defending the three men because at the time of the incident in question they were all still city employees.

The trial for the case against the remaining defendants is expected to start  in Springfield on Monday, Nov. 29, the same day as jury selection. Washington’s attorney, Greg Kulis, says he expects the trial to last one to two weeks.

Though the civil rights trial originally began in December 2009, it was dismissed after only one day of testimony when one of the jurors reported that another juror had made racist remarks. [See “Larry Washington civil-rights lawsuit declared mistrial,” by Amanda Robert, Dec. 10, 2009, at illinoistimes.com.]

Kulis says he’s concerned about the fact that none of the jurors in the last jury pool were minorities, but says he thinks Washington can still receive a fair trial.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

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