Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Arlington Heights Daily News. May 5, 2022.

Editorial: Denying media access to records in murder case could prove a slippery slope

There has been a welcome trend in recent years of allowing cameras in courtrooms. It is catching on slowly but surely in Cook, Kane, McHenry, Lake, DuPage and Will counties.

The state supreme court has given circuit judges the latitude to experiment with allowing news operations to select pool photographers to unobtrusively photograph court proceedings. The news media interested in covering a case make a request, the attorneys weigh in and then it’s up to the judge to decide.

This type of openness has been refreshing. Photography has provided a window into the judiciary in a way courtroom sketches could not.

And that’s what makes what is happening in Will County so curious.

Reporters from our newspaper and other media outlets have been covering preliminary hearings in a 50-year-old murder case since the arrest of Barry L. Whelpley, 77, in his home north of Minneapolis in 2021.

He stands accused of raping and killing 15-year-old Julie Ann Hanson in Naperville. She disappeared while riding her bike to her brother’s baseball game. Her body was discovered a day later. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed 36 times.

Our reporters filed a Freedom of Information Act request for access to Naperville police reports on the case.

This is standard procedure for the news media, and it would have been SOP for the Naperville Police Department to release at least redacted reports -- as it was prepared to do.

But Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Koch asked Judge David Carlson to halt the release of those reports for fear pretrial publicity would endanger Whelpley’s right to a fair trial. Whelpley’s attorney, Terry Ekl, agreed. The judge then ordered that Naperville police should not release the reports.

This from the county that tried household name Drew Peterson, whose story was fresher and which drew a media circus.

The Whelpley case has ethical implications far beyond solving the crime of Julie Ann Hanson’s murder. Police worked with a genealogy company to search for a match from a DNA sample collected from her body. It found potential matches to Whelpley and his deceased brother and father.

Will County courts don’t see their cases appealed because of pretrial publicity. Why is this case such a concern?

Withholding information in this way is a slippery slope. Who’s to say this won’t become habit?

Why is this case being treated differently from other murder cases?

It shouldn’t be.

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Chicago Tribune. May 9, 2022.

Editorial: Rita Crundwell, comptroller who bilked Dixon, should complete the remainder of her sentence

Life is getting back to normal in Dixon, Illinois, victim of an especially disgusting scam, even in a state notorious for public corruption.

Working from a position of trust as comptroller, Rita Crundwell embezzled a stunning $53.7 million over two decades to fund a lavish lifestyle, while her small, Lee County town (2020 population: 15,733) cut jobs, borrowed to the hilt and postponed essential upkeep. The town recovered part of the money from the bank and auditing firms that enabled Crundwell, as well as from the sale of horses and other luxury goods she bought with stolen funds.

At its meeting May 2, the Dixon City Council showed it is making progress despite the terrible crime committed against it, approving a budget, recognizing the work of the beautification preservation committee and addressing what we hope were routine bills.

It’s a far cry from the Crundwell years, when the town postponed replacement of a fire truck at the same time its shameless bookkeeper was using stolen money to buy herself a $2 million motor home. Crundwell kept stealing right up to her arrest in 2012, at one point buying a $350,000 horse named Pizzazzy Lady with money supposedly earmarked for a Dixon sewer project.

With any luck, 2022 will be a banner year for bringing crooked public officials to justice in Illinois.

In July, former Chicago Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson, 11th, is scheduled to be sentenced for lying to federal bank regulators and filing false tax returns.

In September, the first batch of defendants in the Commonwealth Edison swindle are set for trial. We hope a separate trial will come swiftly for ex-House Speaker Michael Madigan and an associate accused in the bribery scheme, in which ComEd admitted to giving Madigan cronies do-nothing jobs while obtaining lucrative state legislation.

Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, and Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, are likely to see their criminal cases advance this year toward final resolutions. Another ex-alderman, Danny Solis, 25th, is expected to be a witness against Madigan and Burke.

We understand if you have trouble keeping the statuses straight: Thompson was found guilty, the ComEd defendants have pleaded not guilty, as have Madigan and his associate, as well as Burke and Austin. Solis has pleaded not guilty but admitted to crimes as he cooperated with the feds to gather evidence against his colleagues, and ex-Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, pleaded guilty and received a 13-month sentence in March.

What will it take to deter public officials in this state from using government offices to steal from taxpayers? Even longer prison sentences?

In 2006, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison and in 2011, ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years. In 2013, Crundwell got one of the stiffest corruption sentences in memory: 19 years, seven months. It fit the crime: What Crundwell did to Dixon, boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, is widely viewed as the largest municipal fraud in U.S. history.

You’d hope the mere threat of a 20-year term would act as a deterrent, but apparently not, partly because those sentences aren’t always what they seem. While Ryan served his time, the outrageous Blagojevich had his sentence commuted by ex-President Donald Trump, who committed a fresh injustice against the citizens of Illinois by freeing him more than four years early.

And then there’s Crundwell, released from prison last August after serving less than half her sentence instead of the 85% that is mandatory in the federal system. She has COVID-19 to thank.

At the time, Dixon Mayor Liandro Arellano Jr. told the Rockford Register-Star, that he had not been given advance notice nor the ability to aptly warn his recovering community.

As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, Crundwell filed for compassionate release from the federal prison near Peoria where she was being held. She was 67 at the time, and complained of high blood pressure, arthritis and other infirmities common to older adults.

She described herself as a model inmate who had helped the feds recover hundreds of horses and other assets eventually used to pay back Dixon. She asked for release to her brother’s home on the outskirts of the same town she bilked, and the Bureau of Prisons now lists her at a halfway house in Downers Grove that actually farms out many of its inmates to “home confinement” elsewhere.

The Bureau of Prisons does not provide details, but presumably Crundwell has returned to the scene of the crime, many years ahead of her time.

Three thoughts:

First, the pandemic posed a deadly threat to vulnerable inmates such as Crundwell and the feds had a duty to protect them from the virus, even if that meant temporarily releasing nonviolent offenders to home confinement.

Second, the people of Dixon have every right to be angry about this compassion shown to a coldhearted liar who lived like a queen by gutting their town’s finances. As the judge said in imposing sentence, Crundwell showed “greater passion for the welfare of her horses than the people of Dixon who she represented.”

Third, when it’s deemed safe to do so, Crundwell should be returned to prison to complete the rest of her sentence. After abusing the public trust for more than 20 years, she should be required to serve at least 85% of an appropriate 235-month sentence. The federal system has no parole.

Corrupt public officials watching this high-profile case are no doubt betting that they, too, can get away with stealing for years, and then get off with a penalty that makes corruption worth the risk. Keep Crundwell behind bars, along with other crooks who abuse their offices and disgrace this state.

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Chicago Sun-Times. May 6. 2022.

Editorial: Study on corrupt police ‘crews’ is reminder that cop culture must change

The quicker officers who engage in illegal conduct are taken off the streets, the better it will be for residents — and for the many honest men and women in uniform who are trying to make a positive difference in the communities they serve.

Bad behavior in police departments can be like a raging wildfire or an infectious disease.

Misconduct is contagious. And when wayward officers are reassigned, they can continue to have a negative influence on their peers, making the problem worse, according to a 2019 study published in Nature Human Behavior analyzing the London Metropolitan Police Service.

For every 10% increase in the proportion of a police officer’s peers with a history of misconduct, that officer’s chances of engaging in wrongdoing in the next three months rose by nearly 8%, the research by a pair of behavioral economists found.

A new study closer to home, focusing on the Chicago Police Department between 1971 and 2018, solidifies these findings — and further exposes how problem officers often travel in packs.

The research by a Northwestern University team led by sociologist Andrew Papachristos brings to mind the torture allegations against the late disgraced Cmdr. Jon Burge and his “midnight crew,” as well as the abuse accusations that continue to besmirch retired Detective Reynaldo Guevara and his underlings.

While the NU study doesn’t name Burge and Guevara or any other infamous officers, it serves as another glaring reminder of why the culture within CPD must be dismantled.

Other reforms will be for naught if a toxic culture isn’t replaced with attitudes and practices that strengthen accountability and keep violence and other misconduct from spreading like a cancerous tumor.

Flagging ‘hot spots’ for misconduct

Papachristos and his team identified 160 potentially problematic CPD “crews” with an algorithm using arrest reports, citizen complaints, lawsuits and use-of-force reports during the nearly five-decade period.

Even though research ethics prevented Papachristos from pinpointing specific officers in those crews, the information will be made available to CPD so a system can be created in which possible patterns of abuse and criminal behavior can be flagged, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Andy Grimm reported.

“Police love data as a way to identify ‘hot spots’ for criminal activity,” as Papachristos put it. “This is data identifying the hot spots inside the department.”

It’s logical — and in the police department’s best interest — to seize this opportunity and use the findings to weed out corruption and get rid of the ‘bad apple’ officers. It’s these officers who are largely responsible for erosion of Chicagoans’ trust in law enforcement.

Additionally, the NU study should lead other entities to ensure they have enough effective personnel to help address the problem. That includes the city’s Law Department, which has had a backlog of police discharge cases attributed by some to a staff shortage, WBEZ reported last month.

The quicker officers who engage in illegal conduct are taken off the streets, the better it will be for residents — and for the many honest men and women in uniform who are trying to make a positive difference in the communities they serve.

Clearly, the cops in the crews — 4% of the 30,000 officers investigated for the NU study — were no role models.

They were involved in 22% of all police shootings during the nearly 50-year time period, according to the data. They also accounted for 14% of all citizen complaints and nearly 30% of all civil rights lawsuits against the city.

What’s worse, the payouts in those lawsuits were four times more compared to the cases involving officers who were not identified as part of a crew.

A matter of will

Street gangs snuff out lives and damage the community. The gangs among those who carry CPD badges are just as harmful, if not worse, since they took an oath to serve and protect.

To identify the police crews, Papachristos actually applied the same methodology he used to analyze gang members and identify likely victims of gun violence.

Papachristos and his team also created a profile for potential corrupt crews by looking at the case of former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his cohorts and the actions of groups of officers in two other high-profile scandals from the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

CPD, mandated to make reforms by a 2019 federal consent decree, cannot afford another crisis tied to a gaggle of problem or corrupt officers. No Chicagoan wants to see that either.

The department must find the will to overhaul a culture that has allowed these unscrupulous police crews to exist and flourish.

Combating crime inside the department is as urgent as combating it elsewhere.

END