Let me tell you about a story; a story about a man who was loved by many; a man who had dedicated his life to others; a visionary. This man who was such an asset to his community, saw such vile and awful things in his own community that he could not sit by and idly watch. With the help of a dear friend, he decided to stand up and create a documentary about racism in our local police departments. Now, how would you feel if I told you that man has now fallen victim to a police conspiracy? The following two stories are ongoing and they are happening in our town of Champaign-Urbana! Please show your support anyway possible...
Continuance Granted in Trial of Black Civil Rights Activist
08 Aug 2006
A growing crowd of over 50 supporters sat behind Patrick Thompson and his family as he appeared for sentencing on Monday August 7. Thompson received a guilty verdict for home invasion and sexual abuse one month ago. Judge Clem granted a continuance set for October 2, 2006 and allowed Bob Kirchner to take over as Thompson's new attorney. Kirchner will be filing a motion for re-trial in this highly controversial case.
In 2004, Black activists Patrick Thompson and Martell Miller were videotaping police behavior in Black neighborhoods in Champaign-Urbana. A day after bogus charges of felony eavesdropping were brought against Miller (charges that were later dropped), the equally baseless charges of home invasion and sexual abuse were brought against Thompson. This is a crime with no evidence, no eye-witnesses, and an investigating officer who admits he never visited the scene of the crime. The accuser, a white woman, has a history of similar allegations against Black men. She also has had warrants for her arrest and criminal charges of child endangerment mysteriously which were dropped throughout the term of this case. Thompson faces 6-30 years for a crime he did not commit. The continuance was viewed by Thompson and his supporters as an important victory. A crowd gathered in front of the courthouse holding hands, joining in prayer, and singing "We Shall Overcome" to invoke the civil rights memories of the past in order to fight the 21st Century trends of mass incarceration and legalized slavery.
The story is a long and tangled one that involves the right for citizens to monitor police (a la Rodney King), a history of law enforcement retaliation against black activists (a la Fred Hampton), and the tale of two worlds in the criminal justice system - one for blacks, focused on harsh prison sentences - and one for whites, who walk free for violent crimes.
The story begin in 2004 with two black men video taping police officers from across the street. That was the "crime." Before committing this "crime", these two black men notified, in writing, the police and local governments that they would be exercising what they thought were their first amendment rights to freely videotape, record and publicly broadcast their public servants.
For most of the summer of 2004, whenever they came across "routine" pedestrian or traffic stops of African-Americans in their neighborhood, they recorded events using a hand-held video camera careful to stay out of the way of the stops. They also recorded statements from the people the police had stopped. Their goal was to document local perception that the police racially target African-American youth for the slightest infractions. Champaign County comprises only an 11% African-American population, yet 80%-90% of its defendants in the courtrooms are African-American.
The two videographers, who had earlier organized a new youth mentoring program, called Visionaries Educating Youth and Adults, wanted to show local black leadership why its young people had become weary and negligent with their schooling. Black teenagers had reported to them that school was not the problem for their lack of educational achievement, rather, the constant police harassment they experienced gave them little incentive to invest in their futures. The film, the two videographers had hoped, would begin a dialogue to improve police/community relations.
The reactions from uniformed police officers to the presence of a video camera aimed on their activities were mixed. Some officers understood the publics right to know about their job duties; other officers were defensive by a video camera recording their aggressive behaviors and worse, felt threatened by the recordings.
A few officers reported the problem to the States Attorneys office and then-assistant state's attorney, Elizabeth Dobson, began to go on "ride-a-longs" with the police, videotaping Thompson and Martell for evidence. On August 7th Champaign police officers seized the video camcorder without a warrant over the objections of both Martel Miller and Patrick Thompson. Despite police knowing Thompson was also involved in the videotaping project, only Martel Miller was issued a summons to appear in court on Monday, August 23, 2004. Mr. Miller was charged with two counts of Class 1 felony eavesdropping on police officers, subject to 4-15 years in the penitentiary. Accompanying Mr. Miller to court that day, was his partner in this "crime", Patrick Thompson, who made sure the local newspaper published a story about this unusual "crime" in the next days paper.
On that very next day, Tuesday, August 24, 2004, Mr. Thompson awoke to begin a new semester, buying books for his class schedule at Parkland College, visiting the university quad to talk to minority law students, running some errands, attending his classes, and buying his son a bicycle at a local sporting goods store. When he arrived home at about 3:00p.m., there was a knock at his apartment door. Two Urbana Police officers were there to inform him that he was under arrest for the attempted rape of a white woman who lived directly next door to his apartment. The same assistant states attorney who had indicted his friend, Martel Miller, on felony eavesdropping charges, now indicted Mr. Thompson with 5 criminal felony counts including home invasion & sexual abuse. Mr. Thompson faced a maximum of 120 years in prison. A high bond was set at $250,000.
Later that week, Mr. Thompson was given another charge of a Class 1 felony eavesdropping charge and Mr. Miller was given a 3rd count of Class 1 felony eavesdropping.
The public uproar over the eavesdropping charges was city-wide. Academics, liberal activists, and even the local conservative newspaper in town poured contempt on the States Attorneys decision to prosecute two people for videotaping police activity.
The Champaign Police Chief, R.T. Finney, also criticized the States Attorney, John Piland for "hijacking the case" away from his administration. The Police Chief said the agreement with Piland was to file the eavesdropping charges simply to "leverage" Mr. Miller and Mr. Thompson to the table for a discussion about taping police officers, a public admission that the eavesdropping prosecution was malicious.
Piland still maintained, "We believe we can win the case and protect the interests of the officers who were wronged and provide unmistakable education to those who continue to maintain that the conduct of these two is lawful." Pilands unmistakable education was going to be a lesson to anyone else who dared to point cameras at police officers: documenting police activity will mean jail time.
Still trying to salvage his re-election campaign, however, Piland bowed to public pressure, and dropped the charges against Martel Miller. He left in place the charges of eavesdropping against Thompson, saying those charges would be resolved with the prosecution of the home invasion charges.
Julia Reitz, Pilands opponent in the upcoming November election, seized the opportunity. Her campaign criticized incumbent John Piland, declaring, "I think it's indicative of an overall community problem regarding distrust of the criminal justice system. Given the facts of the case, I wouldn't have touched [the eavesdropping] with a 10-foot pole." Reitz even attended the showing of Miller & Thompsons documentary, Citizens Watch, at Boardman's Art Theatre where over 300 people were infuriated by what they saw in the film: how police behave when stopping African-Americans.
One of the most heart-wrenching parts of Citizens Watch, is of a young African-American bystander no more than 10 years old, watching as one of the police encounters is being taped, shouting at the video camera, "They is arresting us because we's black."
The police were captured on tape coming down hard on African-Americans north of University Avenue while ignoring misconduct by white students in campus town. The film could easily embarrass some police officers. The camera doesn't lie - and viewers of Mr. Thompson's and Mr. Miller's film couldn't deny race does matter when interacting with local law enforcement.
While the storm kicked up over the film, Patrick Thompson sat in jail for four months, not able to pay the $25,000 to get himself out. His wife, Maria Thompson, quietly moved away from her next door neighbor who had put her husband in jail. Members of the public came forward and informed her that his accuser had previously made similar sexual allegations against other men of color at her place of employment. The appointed public defender to represent Thompson on the criminal charges, Bruce Ratcliffe, filed an answer to the State's motion for discovery on Oct. 19, 2004, and gave notice that he intended to call as witnesses, two men who had been accused of sexual misconduct by the same accuser in Thompson's criminal case.
Thanks partially to the controversy generated by the eavesdropping prosecution, John Piland was dethroned from his 10-years as state's attorney.
During her first days in office, the new states attorney Julia Rietz made good on her promise and dropped the charges of eavesdropping against Patrick Thompson. In the criminal matters, Rietz declared a conflict of interest claiming she represented Mr. Thompson in other matters before, and asked for a special prosecutor. She also dropped Mr. Thompsons bond for the sex abuse case from $250,000 to nothing, an odd move for someone facing 2 Class X felonies.
Thompson had exercised his right to alarm the public about racial targeting, racial profiling and the double standard in the local justice system, and now began his own struggle to adequately represent himself in court. Alarmed that his public defender had not demanded a speedy trial, giving the State an unwarranted chance to prepare a case without merit, Thompson chose to defend himself.
Meanwhile in response to the eavesdropping uproar, Illinois State Representative Chapin Rose introduced House Bill 1139 to the floor of the Illinois General Assembly clarifying that it is legal to record peace officers performing their duties in the public way. In June of 2005, Miller and Thompson successfully filed a federal lawsuit against 12 local law enforcement officials a case that remains pending to this day.
The motive to get rid of Mr. Thompson is clear. The eavesdropping case embarrassed many, cost some people their jobs, and now stands to cost millions of dollars in damages for constitutional violations including malicious prosecution.
Did the Champaign County legal system use Thompson's accuser to punish Mr. Thompson for his filming of police activity?
The accuser certainly had reason to cooperate with law enforcement. The day she made the accusations against Mr. Thompson, she had a warrant out for her arrest over a $4000 dollar debt. Two days after she accused Thompson, the warrant for her arrest was mysteriously quashed.
As the prosecution geared up for trial, the body attachment was reissued on the same small claims case. A warrant went out for Thompsons accusers arrest. Mysteriously she was never apprehended throughout a series of continuances of the Thompson case. Meanwhile she had a second body attachment put on her for a different bad debt case.
40 days before she was scheduled to testify against Thompson, July 19, 2005, Thompsons accuser was indicted for criminal child endangerment for leaving her 2 year-old daughter wandering in the street.
During the trial, the prosecution hid from the defense the fact that the accuser had pending criminal charges and a warrant out for her arrest. After the trial, the states attorney dropped her child endangerment charges.
Why would she lie, asked the Special Prosecutor to the jury. The jury had no knowledge that she might lose custody of her children were she convicted by the same office she was testifying for in the Thompson case. Perhaps we would do the same if facing the loss of our children and mounting debt?
The past allegations of sexual harassment she made against other men of color was stricken from the record, as Special Prosecutor Vujovich filed a motion to prevent the jury from ever hearing about her pattern of accusing men of sexual misdeeds. Still, 6 of the jurors refused to go along with the Special Prosecutor's story line, and Thompson escaped conviction with a hung jury.
So there was motive for law enforcement to get rid of Patrick Thompson. And there was motive for the accuser to give false testimony to save her family. But was there any evidence or any witnesses to prove that he did it? The answer that disturbs the public so much in this case is NO. There was absolutely no evidence or witnesses. The case rests solely on her credibility, the prosecution told the jury knowing that the jury would not see information related to her credibility.
The police report states that an unknown attacker entered her apartment, locked the door, and threatened her. It states that he was shirtless and that a fight ensued where the victim kicked and screamed so loud she believes this the reason he stopped his advances. The report states investigating Officer Michael Hediger visited the apartment complex twice to arrest Thompson in the apartment next door to the crime scene. Despite this, Officer Hediger admits on the stand that he never entered the apartment of the accuser to gather evidence. No witness was ever found to attest to the accusers early morning screaming in this densely packed apartment building. The officer never checked for cuts, abrasions, scratches, bruises or any other injuries of any kind on either the accuser or the accused.
If Officer Hediger had checked for evidence, there would have been nothing to substantiate the "victim's" claims against Patrick Thompson. For Special Prosecutor Michael Vujovich to win in court, it was better to have the case rest in the imaginations of an all-white jury, rather than prove criminal events with reliable, objective physical evidence that anyone could see- a reasonable standard before sending someone to jail for the rest of their life. Michael Hedigers entire criminal investigation was writing down a verbal statement from a complaintant, and that complaintant being a person who the State knows accuses men of color of similar sexual misconduct at her former place of employment. What Vujovich could not allow the jury to hear was the past history of his star witness. Vujovich filed a motion to suppress the testimony of the three men Thompson planned to subpoena to the first trial. Thompson had done his own research and found the correct case precedent to allow such testimony in a case like this. Nevertheless, Judge Tom Difanis ignored Thompsons citation and ruled in favor of the prosecution, leaving Thompson unable to introduce the accusers past history of making false sexual allegations.
At trial, the prosecution pandered to prejudice. The prosecution asked the jury to apply their common sense experiences in life consider what motivations exist as he pointed to the black man accused on trying to rape a white woman. How many all-white juries will consult their experiences a legacy of fear of black mens sexuality towards white women - and send innocent men to jail?
After the first mistrial, Patrick Thompson decided to hire an attorney who could perform the necessary investigation, subpoena the business records, and subpoena witnesses to defend against this accuser's claims. And on March 1, 2006, Attorney Harvey Welch filed a motion for 4 defense witnesses that would reveal the accuser's past history for throwing around unsubstantiated allegations. Activists and the Thompson family were hopeful that the next trial would be different. There would be no way a jury could hand down nothing less than a not-guilty verdict.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Harvey Welch did not follow up on the leads he had, and chose instead to rely strictly on the lack of physical evidence to suggest the allegations weren't true. Even though Judge Harry Clem allowed for past allegations to be entered into evidence, rejecting the prosecutors re-filing to suppress the accusers history; Mr. Welch thought it wiser to not discuss her past allegations since he couldn't prove they were false allegations to begin with. Key witnesses went unheard. Welch relied on innocent until proven guilty, knowing that the prosecution could not prove guilt. The trial focused strictly on stories about a morning on August 24, 2004, ignoring the accusers history, the history of the eavesdropping case. Without this context, the lack of physical evidence was outweighed by the prosecutors question before the unaware jury: Why would she lie?
Patrick Thompson was convicted on July 7, 2006 on charges of sexual abuse and home invasion. The lone black juror was distraught, confused, and even apologized to the defendant as he walked out of the courtroom. The question remains, was he coerced by the other jurors to go along with a consensus he didn't agree with?
Thompson now faces 6-30 years in prison. His federal lawsuit for constitutional violations and malicious prosecution remains pending. His citizen taping of the police has ended.
A growing crowd of over 50 supporters sat behind Patrick Thompson and his family as he appeared for sentencing on Monday August 7. Judge Clem granted a continuance set for October 2, 2006 2:30 pm and allowed Bob Kirchner to take over as Thompson's new attorney. Kirchner will be filing a motion for re-trial in this highly controversial case.
After the continuance was granted, the supporters filed out in front of the courthouse, holding hands and raising money to pay Kirchner for his services. Nearly $500 was collected in a single pass of the hat. This is on top of the over $5500 raised to date.
Community Courtwatch, a project of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, has been following the Thompson case amongst others. They have raised funds for the defense and worked on publicizing the corruption in the criminal justice system that this case exposes. Community Courtwatch meets every Saturday at 4 PM at the Independent Media Center in the downtown Urbana post office.