Convicted by a jury of his peers
Calvin Christian goes to court
Springfield’s most notorious traffic scofflaw or victim of police persecution – take your pick – had his day in court Monday and came away guilty as charged.
But Calvin Christian III was smiling after a jury found him guilty of running a red light, failing to secure a child in a child seat and driving without a license. Total penalty: $390, a lot less than the cost of a judge, two prosecutors, a court reporter, juror pay and salaries for a police officer and Secretary of State employee who testified during a proceeding that stretched four-and-a-half hours.
“I think it was good,” said Christian, who claims in a federal lawsuit that city police are targeting him because he has demanded police disciplinary files under the state Freedom of Information Act.“It just adds further to my charge of malicious prosecution.”
Sangamon County state’s attorney John Milhiser dismissed any notion that police or prosecutors are picking on Christian. The driving offenses often come late at night, with underage passengers, the prosecutor said.
“Part of our job here is to protect the community,” Milhiser said. “When he drives recklessly and with underage individuals in the car, he can be (dangerous).”
In past instances, Christian cut deals, agreeing to plead guilty to some offenses in exchange for other charges being dropped. Court records show that he often doesn’t pay fines, and at least a half-dozen cases have been referred to collection agencies.
Christian, 22, has received at least 100 traffic tickets in Sangamon County, mostly from Springfield police but also from county sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, Jerome police and officers at the University of Illinois Springfield.
The citations started with a trickle, with just one (for disregarding a stop sign) in 2007, the year Christian turned 16 and got his license. There were three in 2008, five in 2009, nine in 2010 and a veritable blizzard thereafter. Fleeing and eluding police. Improper U-turn. Reckless driving. And much, much more. Christian has been cited at least 19 times for driving without a valid license, including two racked up within 20 minutes last spring after a city officer who had just ticketed him saw him driving again.
Milhiser said that he has personally met with Christian twice, once with first state’s attorney Matt Maurer, another time with Christian’s lawyer and Springfield police chief Robert Williams. The latter meeting culminated in a deal and a fresh start in April of last year. More than a dozen charges were adjudicated, with some dismissed and Christian pleading guilty to speeding, improper lane travel, illegal transportation of alcohol and disregarding a stop sign.
Less than three weeks later, Christian’s driver’s license expired. More than a year later, he has yet to renew it.
Driving without a valid license is a tough charge to beat, as Mark Wykoff, Christian’s pro bono lawyer, acknowledged Monday. He’s guilty of that, Wykoff told jurors, but why don’t prosecutors have a video of Christian running a stoplight at South 13th and Cook streets last fall? Why no witnesses except the officer, even though there was a passenger in the car? He also noted that assistant state’s attorney Travis Strobach asked Officer Andrew Barnes “approximately” how old the child was who was seated in the passenger’s lap and the officer replied “maybe one or two.”
“We don’t convict people on ‘maybe’s’ and ‘approximately’s’,” Wykoff argued.
Oh-yes-we-do, the jury decided after 30 minutes of deliberations.
After the verdict, Christian declined to say why he hasn’t renewed his driver’s license, saying that filings in his federal lawsuit against the city will explain the reason within the next month.
Attorney Jon Gray Noll, who is defending the city in the federal suit, says officers have done nothing wrong in making Christian a frequent flier in traffic court.
“He must not be following the law,” said Noll, who is also defending the city in a state court lawsuit filed by Christian, who alleges that the police department has illegally destroyed police internal affairs files.
In addition to the two lawsuits handled by Noll, Christian has twice sued the city to obtain police disciplinary files. He has prevailed once. Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Schmidt heard arguments on the other lawsuit more than a year ago but has not yet ruled.
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org