Police restraint on CCHS student generates public outcry

Protestor+with+the+Sunrise+Movement+Southern+Illinois+stand+silently+outside+of+the+Carbondale+Public+Safety+Center+Oct.+13%2C+2021+in+Carbondale%2C+Ill.+In+a+Facebook+post%2C+the+organization+said%2C+Our+protests+will+continue+every+Wednesday+until+justice+is+served+and+the+right+actions+are+taken+by+the+CPD.+

Sophie Whitten | @swhittenphotography

Protestor with the Sunrise Movement Southern Illinois stand silently outside of the Carbondale Public Safety Center Oct. 13, 2021 in Carbondale, Ill. In a Facebook post, the organization said, “Our protests will continue every Wednesday until justice is served and the right actions are taken by the CPD.”

A Black Carbondale Community High School student was restrained by a Carbondale police officer at a Casey’s General Store near the school. The Thursday, Sept. 23 incident has sparked four protests with more expected to come in upcoming weeks.

The female student will remain unnamed as she is under the age of 18.

According to a press statement released by the Carbondale Police Department (CPD), an officer responded to a trespassing complaint against the student at a Dollar General near the site of the incident. The student was banned from the store previously and was identified by employees as having reentered on the date in question.

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The student was confronted at a nearby Casey’s by a single officer, who attempted to identify the student. The student refused to identify themself at which point the officer pinned the student to the ground. Then an off-duty officer from another agency assisted in controlling the crowd that gathered.

According to the police press statement, once the student was in custody, she continued to refuse to identify herself  and remained combative until another officer was able to make the positive ID. The student’s backpack was removed from their person in order to seat the student in the squad car. Officers then made contact with the student’s parents and the student was subsequently released.

No injuries were reported as a result of the incident, but the student has been charged with trespassing, resisting a peace officer, and aggravated battery to a police officer.

The student was banned from the Dollar General before the day of the incident for wearing a backpack inside.

The incident was partially recorded and the video has since circulated on social media, generating a pushback from members of the community.

The Sunrise Movement has since begun a weekly protest campaign which began on Wednesday, Oct. 13. The protests begin at the Carbondale Civic Center and end at  the CPD, with marchers saying the the officer’s treatment of the student was unwarranted.

Farhana Mohamad-Ali is one of the protesters with the Sunrise Movement.

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“We just want the CPD to put a public statement out or maybe take some action against the officer or own up to what they did,” Mohamad-Ali said. “This shouldn’t be happening in 2021.”

Victor Ludwig is another protester who showed his support at the Oct. 13 protest.

“We believe that the officer should be held accountable for their actions,” Ludwig said. “When this type of violence is perpetrated, especially against young women in our community, it is unacceptable.”

 Chastity Mays, the assistant director of the Gift of Love Charity, has organized multiple campaigns to demand an apology for the student and call for a change in the way local police approach nonviolent crime.

“The officer did exactly what he was supposed to do and Chief Reno stands by what he did, which is a problem,” Mays said.

Mays said the officer had the opportunity to alleviate the situation but chose to escalate the use of force. She said the crime reportedly committed was nonviolent and should have been a low priority situation for law enforcement.

“It’s excessive use of force,” Mays said. “There was no reason for the way he treated her. This young girl did not deserve to be slammed on the ground for going into a store.”

Following the incident, Mays organized a community phone campaign to call the CPD to make a complaint against the officer in question and to decry what they say is excessive force.

Mays also spoke to the District Manager of the Dollar General and was told the establishment did not have a ban on backpacks. This calls into question the reason the student was banned originally, as the Dollar General is also a popular place for students from the high school to purchase snacks and hang out.

The store manager of the Dollar General declined to comment.

“The employees of that store need to be talked to and told there is not a backpack ban,” Mays said. “That’s definitely something people looking into this case need to know.”

On Thursday, Oct. 7, Mays participated in a meeting alongside Nancy Maxwell and spoke with Police Chief Stan Reno as well as Jackson County State’s Attorney Joe Cervantez and City Manager Gary Williams along with  several other community members including the grandfather of the student. Mays said at this meeting Reno agreed the student was not violent at the time of the initial confrontation, countering the officer’s statement of the event.

At the meeting, the group asked for charges against the student to be dropped, for the city to support the implementation of the Cure Violence program currently spearheaded by the group Carbondale United, and to have officers take part in a communication training program. Mays said the officials had little to say during the meeting.

Mays also worked with groups including the Sunrise Movement and the Southern Illinois Unity Coalition to organize a protest outside of the Dollar General on Friday, Oct. 8, at which protesters wore backpacks in solidarity with the student.

State’s attorney Cervantez works closely with the CPD and reviews reports before they go to prosecuting attorneys. His office collects and tracks data regarding arrests and reports against officers.

“If I feel that an officer is not trustworthy or not credible or needs further training, we would explain that to their superiors,” Cervantez said. “We push reports back to law enforcement agencies regularly, so this system is already set up to help guide law enforcement.”

Cervantez said the issue in question is not whether force was used, but whether the force was justified. He said when force is used, a report is made which is then reviewed by his office.

As the case is ongoing, Cervantez declined to say whether the use of force in this instance was justified. He did say he was surprised and alarmed when he was informed of the suspect’s juvenile status.

“Our citizens and our community expect those with the responsibility of carrying a badge to not just enforce the laws but to follow and not be above the law,” he said.

Cervantez said it is vital the community to know a system of checks and balances is in place to balance the power of law enforcement with the power of the state’s attorney to protect the rights of citizens.

“It’s important to know that there is an expectation not just for police officers but also for the community,” he  said.

Cervantez said the primary concern when an officer arrives on a scene is to ensure they follow the protocol given by their department regarding the use and escalation of force, called a force continuum.

“We want to see how police officers act with and whether they use that force continuum,” Cervantez said. “It’s very important to look at it that way because they do have a very dangerous job.”

Cervantez said body cameras are going to be coming soon to the CPD. He said these cameras will allow prosecutors in his office to get as much of the truth as possible, which can clarify the uncertainty surrounding incidents by capturing the entire encounter.

Staff reporter William Box can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @William17455137. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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