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Community Groups Demand Release of Peoria Police Disciplinary Records

Black Justice Project via Facebook
Ryan Hidden, left, executive director of Change Peoria, and Chama St. Louis, Peoria mayoral candidate, hold a virtual press conference over the release of Peoria police disciplinary records.

A coalition of Peoria community groups requesting the disciplinary records of several police officers involved in fatal incidents, say they're not satisfied with the statement released Wednesday night by Chief Loren Marion III and the police union.
The Black Justice Project, Peoria NAACP, Change Peoria, ACLU of Illinois Peoria Chapter, and several other groups say they filed a Freedom of Information Act request on June 2 for the disciplinary records of Joseph Harris, Ryan Isonhart, Ian McDowell, Mathew Lane, Sean Johnston, Tyler Hodges, Jason Leigh, Nathan Adams and other officers, whose identities aren't yet publicly disclosed, in connection with the deaths of Eddie Russell, Jr, Daniel El, Luis Cruz, David Smith, and Trashaun Shields. All five of those men were Black.

The groups say they received a response on June 19 requesting more time to fulfill the FOIA request. The response also reportedly told the groups to narrow the scope of the request or face high costs to fulfill it.

On Wednesday night, Marion and the Peoria Police Benevolent Association issued a joint news release on the request for more information on the incidents, compiling details already largely published to "strengthen the police-community relationship" and "provide clarity on why the officers involved in these incidents responded the way they did."

"The officers involved in these incidents have had their actions, ethics, and integrity attacked in each of these cases," Marion said. "We understand that transparency and communication is vital to building trust and having a healthy relationship with the community we serve."

A copy of that statement and the police rationale behind their actions in each incident can be found here.

But Peoria mayoral candidate Chama St. Louis said in a virtual news conference Thursday that the summary of publicly available information provided in the release isn't what the groups are asking for.

"It was really just a release to justify the police's behavior in those deaths, versus giving us information about those police's behavior prior to those deaths and after those deaths," St. Louis said.

St. Louis said Marion has used the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as an excuse not to hold his own officers accountable for their behavior toward Black men.

Russell, El, Cruz, and Shields were shot dead by police in separate incidents between 2017 and last month. Smith died at a hospital after he was unresponsive in police custody in October 2019.

The officers involved in the Russell, El, and Cruz cases were cleared of wrongdoing by the Peoria County State's Attorney after a review of evidence gathered by the Illinois State Police. The results of the Shields investigation are pending.

Ryan Hidden, executive director of Change Peoria, said he'd like to see that investigative process change.

"Ideally, the investigations would be done by independent organizations that are not law enforcement," Hidden said. "There's models for this in other states. This is a combination of law enforcement experts, citizens participating on the board to do the reviews. It shouldn't be done by cow0rkers or colleagues who are going to investigate people that they're going to work with on a regular basis."

The coalition of groups is asking the police department to release the records without the burden of high processing costs as a sign of its commitment to transparency. St. Louis said the statement and information released Wednesday isn't enough.

"It's not a reason to celebrate. It's not a victory for us. And I really want to encourage the community to keep applying the pressure. This is not a time to relax. This is not a time to sit back in our seats and say job well done. This is a time to escalate," she said.

A rally calling for justice around policing issues is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, June 25 outside the police department.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.