The release of State’s Attorney Julia Rietz’s summary report of the Illinois State Police’s Report on the investigation of the events that led to the death of Kiwane Carrington is an emotional situation for all involved, and I respect that there are firmly-held beliefs on both sides of the aisle based on past experiences. I’m not trying to disprove any of the following truisms:
- If you obey the orders of a police officer, it is much, much less likely that you will be shot.
- Police officers have difficult, dangerous jobs in which they have to quickly interpret often-ambiguous information.
- Black youth are too often assumed to be guilty, and are tired of being hassled by police officers.
That said, the report answered some questions that were extremely relevant, ignored others, and raised several additional questions. There were also some questionable aspects to the presentation. Here are some of the questions raised by the report:
- Why was there no resolution to the state’s forensic expert’s finding that there was no evidence of close-range firing? From the report: “Dr. Denton determined cause of death to be a gunshot wound of the left arm with reentry into the chest, with the direction of the wound to be left to right, front to back, and downwards. Dr. Denton observed no evidence of close range firing. In a follow up phone conversation, Dr. Denton indicated that he defines close range firing as less than 18 to 24 inches, that he saw nothing obvious to suggest close range firing, but that he conducted no tests on Carrington’s clothing to for the presence of soot or gunpowder residue. Such tests would be necessary to further determine the range of the weapon.” And that’s all that was said about the matter in the summary report. Based on Officer Norbits’ description of the altercation with Carrington, the shot would have to have been fired from close range. Why would Rietz’s office delay the release of the report and not at least note that this information has been requested?
- How can they release a judgment on the report without any statements from the other youth present? Rietz’s summary says that the second youth was taken into police custody, and, “When asked if he wanted to speak to the investigators, he said ‘I do not want to speak.'” The only other mentions of the second youth are details of his previous run-ins with the law, implications that he’s involved with a street gang based on information on his MySpace page (!), and further reports that he didn’t say anything before or immediately after his arrest. The second youth is still facing charges of aggravated resisting arrest, with his next appearance in court scheduled for January 19.
- Why was Officer Norbits’ service record incomplete, and why was Chief Finney’s service record not found to be relevant? The summary indicates that “Officer Norbits’ personnel records with regard to citizen complaints and commendations in the previous five years were reviewed as part of the investigation.” The News-Gazette previously reported (full article is behind the pay wall) that Norbits had subdued Greg Brown, a developmentally-disabled white male, with his service baton in 2000, and Brown died from his injuries. It seems disingenuous to not include this incident in the report, despite it being outside the five-year window defined by the State’s Attorney. And there’s no mention of Finney’s service record, good or bad, which is a strange omission.
There are other, lesser quibbles, such as questionable relevance of the summary reading like a character assassination of Carrington and the second youth, as well as an inordinant amount of time spent on whether or not the youths were welcome in the house when no one was home, both of which are tangential, at best, to the issue of whether the officers committed crimes. Also, the neighbor who made the initial call to the police, as well as the residents of the home, were interviewed twice (once immediately following the incident and again weeks later) and differences in those interviews were used to discredit their testimony, while the police officers, as best as could be determined, were interviewed once, several days after the incident.
Also, included in the report is a quote from Finney: “I had no idea whether it was [Norbits] or the bad guy [referring to Carrington, emphasis mine] but when the gun went off I looked up,” as well as Norbits’ assertion that Finney entered the yard with the words, “stop or I will shoot you,” neither of which are criticisms of the report, but kind of unsettling nonetheless in light of the incident.
Considering the length of the delay for the release of the report, and the reasons cited for this delay, these inconsistencies and questionable practices point to the State’s Attorney’s report being more of a political document than a summary of an impartial investigation.