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Questions raised following release of Bloomington police body cam video
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BLOOMINGTON

Questions raised following release of Bloomington police body cam video

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A screen capture of Bloomington Police Department body camera footage of a July 11 interaction is shown. The footage provided to The Pantagraph was pixelated.   

BLOOMINGTON — An original member of the committee formed to oversee review of complaints about Bloomington police officers says a recent interaction gave him cause for concern. 

The city's police chief says a review of evidence, including a 43-minute recording of the interaction on the officer's body camera, showed that the officer acted appropriately. Art Taylor, a community leader and the first chairman of the Bloomington Public Safety and Community Relations Board, disagreed and said he and his wife, Camille, were frustrated by an encounter with a Bloomington officer on July 11 that began after a neighbor's complaint. 

Art Taylor

Taylor

“Both Camille and I are very passionate about what happened,” Art Taylor said. “We are still in discussion with police for what we viewed as a preconceived guilt that we didn’t deserve.”

The Pantagraph obtained and reviewed video footage of the incident that had been released by the Police Benevolent and Protective Association Unit No. 21. John Heinlen, a member of the union's grievance committee, said union members wanted to make sure that the entire story was told.

MUG Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath

Donath

"Things were being said that were not factual and we released it in defense of a union member so that all of the facts were available," he said.

The incident

The Taylors were first contacted July 11 by a neighbor who said a man in a truck had parked behind Camille Taylor's car, took photos of the license plate and announced he was going to “wait for the owner to come out of the house.” Out of concern, the neighbors contacted the Taylors, who were caught off guard by the information.

“Neither Camille nor me had gone anywhere in the car since Friday morning and our car had been parked on the street overnight,” Art Taylor said.

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Former Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner, foreground, explains procedures for the Public Safety and Community Relations Board to board members Sally Rudolph, Art Taylor and Jeff Woodard during the board's first meeting Dec. 17, 2017, at the police department. Heffner said the board would operate independently from the police department.

The vehicle left, but later, a Bloomington police officer — who has not been publicly identified — arrived and told the Taylors he was recording the meeting with his body camera. Taylor was familiar with the routine. He was named to the PSCRB in fall 2017 and in its first meeting in December 2017, was elected the group’s first chairman.

Complaints against officers are handled by the BPD, but any appeals are heard by the PSCRB. His two-year term as chairman expired earlier this year, but he remains on the seven-member board.

Before he met with the Taylors, the officer met with the resident who originally called in the complaint. 

The video is digitally blurred, but the audio is clear and participants in the discussion are clear and recognizable. The Pantagraph is not posting the video because the neighbors could be identified. 

Footage shows the officer told the complainant that the car was registered to an “older” couple. “If (the suspects) are younger ones, it is probably a niece or nephew or great-grandson or something which is pretty standard for them,” he said.

Asked by The Pantagraph what the officer meant by "them" in that context, Donath said: "'Them' refers to younger people, which is a direct reference back to what the victim referred to when she said "they (the suspects) were younger."

The officer collected the neighbors' names and added, “If they are going to be absurd with me, too, then, I will probably write a disorderly conduct violation and will put down that you were a victim of their disorderly conduct.”

The officer then met with the Taylors and informed them of the complaint. He also noted that the Taylors had a sign in their yard expressing opposition to President Donald Trump, which he said might be the reason for the neighbors to think that Taylors had been involved. The neighbors who contacted police had a pro-Trump sign in their yard. 

“Apparently someone driving your vehicle — I’m not sure if it was you or somebody else — parked over on the other side of the street, pulled over for several minutes, and played a song and were saying ‘F-Trump’ and all of that,” the officer said.

The Taylors said the car had been parked all day and they had not yelled at anyone in the neighborhood or played loud music. They identified themselves as having lived in the same block for 29 years and said they were active in the community and Art was a member of the review board.

Later in the discussion, the officer told the Taylors that the suspects were "younger" people and that they were never suspects. 

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“As soon as I walked up, I didn’t believe it was you,” the officer said, “but I didn’t know if it was a family member or something like that.”

Art Taylor and the officer then visited the home of the resident who called in the complaint. Taylor told the resident the report was in error, they had tried to be good neighbors, and he did not appreciate having the police called to their home. The neighbor and his wife discussed the situation with Taylor and the officer.

“We know it wasn’t you because there were younger teenagers in there,” the woman said.

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The Bloomington Public Safety and Community Relations Board met in December 2018 at City of Refuge Ministries in downtown Bloomington. Board members are, from left to right, Surena Fish, William Bennett, Art Taylor, Sally Rudolph, Jeff Woodard and Robert Bosquez.

Neither side appeared to be satisfied during the discussion and no citations were issued, but later, the Taylors said they were frustrated with the experience.

“This made us feel like it was a case of 'parking while Black,'” Art Taylor said later.

Followup discussion 

Speaking later, Art Taylor said he and his wife had issues with the neighbor "for falsely reporting what occurred," but said that was a separate issue from his concerns about how the officer handled the situation. 

In a letter sent to local officials and community leaders, Taylor emphasized four points. He said the following: 

  • The officer should have approached the Taylors as an investigation, not an accusation. 
  • The neighbor filed a false police report.
  • The Taylors feel that freedom of free speech, such as putting a political sign in one's yard, is being threatened.
  • The "racial components" of the incident now make the Taylors wonder if they are safe in their own neighborhood.

Donath said BPD officials have thoroughly investigated the incident.

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Former Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner, foreground, explains procedures for the Public Safety and Community Relations Board to board members Sally Rudolph, Art Taylor and Jeff Woodard during the board's first meeting Dec. 17, 2017, at the police department. Heffner said the board would operate independently from the police department.

"We have reviewed all the information to include: the entire officer's body worn camera video (approximately 43 minutes), the call to our dispatch call taker, the information given to our officer when dispatched, and the statement of a neighbor of the Taylors," Donath said. "It is our opinion that based upon the totality of circumstances that the officer was aware of at the time, the officer acted professionally and appropriately."

Hiring minority officers a priority for Bloomington-Normal police departments

Taylor said he is concerned that if it could happen to them, it can happen to anyone.

“Camille and I have been bridge builders in Bloomington-Normal. Camille has lived in this community since 1972, first as an ISU student, then later as an educator in Unit 5 for 35 years,” he said. “Her resume of educational, civic involvement, and activism is well known in this community.

“I have been active in this community since my arrival in 1994. I have been a diversity trainer for State Farm and been asked to facilitate many community dialogue sessions during difficult times. We have worked to make this community safe, inclusive, and a better place to live.”

 


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Contact Kevin Barlow at (309) 820-3238. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_barlow

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