Bloomington City Manager David Hales’ recent decision to hire R.T. Finney as the new interim Bloomington police chief should raise some serious questions given Finney’s checkered history as head of police in Champaign, Illinois. Chief R.T. Finney was involved in numerous controversies in Champaign, the most serious being his close involvement in the police shooting of an unarmed, 15-year-old African-American boy, Kiwane Carrington.
As described by the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice:
After a non-emergency call was placed about two youth trying to get into a house at 906 W. Vine St., Chief Finney and Officer Daniel Norbits arrived to find two 15 year olds behind the house. As it turned out, Kiwane stayed at the house frequently and was trying to find shelter during a rainstorm. Both police had their guns drawn and ordered the youth down on the muddy ground. According to police, the youth did not comply. When Norbits tried to push Kiwane to the ground, his gun went off killing Kiwane. Interviewed four days later, Norbits says he had a “really vague recollection” of what happened. After State’s Attorney Julia Rietz interviewed the state police investigation, she ruled the shooting an accident.
The public outcry over Kiwane’s death in 2009 produced a protest movement against police brutality and violence, led by the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice, with widespread calls for R.T. Finney’s resignation. After two years of community pressure, Chief Finney retired from the force in January of 2012. Internal leaks – perhaps from within the police department – suggest that Finney was forced out of his position due to his poor leadership, in part for unfair treatment in promotional practices in the department. (To read leaks, read the comments under the article “Chief Finney ‘Retiring’ From Champaign Police Dept. Jan. 20, 2012.”)
Urbana-Champaign citizens sought justice in the case, skeptical of legitimacy of the investigation of the case and appalled by the the coverage by News-Gazette. The group also pushed for an independent civilian review board of the Champaign police force, which Finney opposed.
The “Report on the Death of Kiwane Carrington,” produced by the Research Working Group of the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice, provides details of what is known about the case and raises questions on the independence of the investigation that exonerated Chief Finney and Officer Daneil Norbits. (For a timeline of escalating police misconduct under Chief Finney’s leadership, visit History of Police Misconduct in Champaign County.)
The 2009 Call for R.T. Finney’s Resignation
In presenting the public petition for Finney’s resignation, former Champaign city council member, Danielle Chynoweth, outlined soon after Kiwane’s killing the city’s experience with Finney as its police chief:
“We have a list here of unacceptable events that have happened under Chief Finney’s leadership since he arrived in 2004. It reads as a litany escalating crises, aggressively policing poor neighborhoods, and fighting against transparency and accountability in the police force and includes:
— Pressing for felony eavesdropping charges against residents videotaping disparate treatment of white and black residents by police.
— Police shooting of Larry Martin while he sat on his porch with a BB gun. Finney says police followed proper procedure.
— Police attacking and pepper spraying an unarmed 17 year old as he walked a young boy home from basketball at Douglas Center. Finney says police followed proper procedure.
— Police shooting blindly after a suspect into a house in a low income neighborhood, bullets flying over the heads of children, despite neighbors’ warnings that there are women and children inside. Finney says police followed proper procedure.
— Ejecting a reporter from a press conference in the wake of a police shootout with a mentally ill homeless man, and only recanting under threat from the ACLU.
We have 13 incidents in all – demonstrated repeated contempt for the constitutional and civil rights of residents.
And after all this, Finney continues to oppose independent civilian oversight of the police, and is now asking for another lethal weapon – taser stun guns. Mayor Schweighart, Steve Carter, and Chief Finney have lost the respect and trust of this community. Chief Finney must step down or be removed.”
Through the years, the C-U Independent Media Center has covered, with a critical eye, R.T. Finney and the Champaign police department, which is why Chief Finney tried to exclude it from press conferences. In 2007, after police shot a mentally ill homeless man, R.T. Finney tried to muzzle IMC independent journalist Brian Dolinar by refusing him access to a press conference. Finney later backed down when confronted by the ACLU.
Does this sound like the kind of police chief Bloomington needs?
2011 incident, under R.T. Finney’s Watch: Video of Champaign Police Choking Black Youth While Handcuffed