By Stuart R. Wahlin
Members of the Rockford City Council convened in closed session July 12 to discuss, among other things, “personnel matters regarding specific employees.”
About an hour before the council meeting, the city issued a press release announcing the outcomes of the Police Department’s internal investigation of the Aug. 24, 2009, officer-involved shooting death of Mark Anthony Barmore. This, along with two federal lawsuits related to the shooting, were likely the focus of discussion behind closed doors.
Barmore, who had an outstanding arrest warrant, was being sought for questioning after a woman alleged he’d threatened to cut her throat with a knife the night before. Once spotted by officers Oda Poole and Stan North, who were advised the suspect may be armed, Barmore fled inside of the Kingdom Authority International Ministries church at 518 N. Court St. Barmore was cornered in a basement boiler room, where daycare staff and children were present nearby. Barmore allegedly tried to wrestle Poole’s gun away, resulting in the use of deadly force.
Although a grand jury, as well as other agencies, ruled the shooting justified, aldermen gave the nod to commission an outside investigation by Independent Assessment & Monitoring (IAM), of Oakland, Calif., whose principal consultants have histories of pursuing alleged police abuse cases. IAM’s report, publicly released last month, agreed the shooting itself was justified, but alleged that the officers had not acted according to department policies and training in the minutes leading up to the deadly use of force. The report also identified a number of other alleged deficiencies, including no apparent supervisory oversight during the incident.
Since the report was made public, the Police Department has completed its own review and has now released details regarding disciplinary action handed down to the officers.
Sgt. Mark Jacobi, the officers’ direct supervisor at the time of the incident, was issued a letter of reprimand.
For the time being, no action is being taken against North, pending the outcome of his application for disability, which is being considered by the Rockford Police Pension Board. He and Poole have been on paid administrative leave since the shooting.
July 12, Poole was suspended for 30 days and will be subjected to a fitness-for-duty evaluation before he may resume full-time duties. The press release noted, “Officer Poole has the right to seek review of the discipline, either before an arbitrator, or before the Rockford Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.”
The police union is expected to appeal disciplinary action against Poole, and may also file a grievance regarding Jacobi’s reprimand.
Poole’s wife, Robin Babcox-Poole, issued the following “Open Letter to the Citizens of Rockford” within hours of the announcement:
“Chief Chet Epperson has informed my husband, Officer Oda Poole, that he violated three ‘rules of conduct’ of the Rockford Police Department on August 24, 2009. Using vague, non-specific ‘rule violations,’ Chief Epperson and the administration of the City of Rockford are, for their own personal, political and professional benefit, apparently attempting to convince the public that Oda, as an officer of the law, acted improperly while acting to apprehend a reportedly ‘armed and dangerous’ suspect allowed into a daycare center.
“Chief Epperson informed Oda that he violated the following vague and non-specific rules without specifying how Oda violated such rules:
“Rule 2: Any action or conduct which impedes the Department’s efforts to achieve its goals, or which brings discredit upon the Department.
“Rule 9: Incompetency or inefficiency in the performance of any assigned duty.
“Rule 49: Any other act or omission of an act contrary to good order and discipline or constituting a violation of any of the provisions of the Rules and regulations of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, the Rules and regulations of the Rockford Police Department, the written Orders of the Rockford Police Department.
“Since the time of the occurrence, amongst other missteps, Mayor [Larry] Morrissey [I] and Chief Epperson stood in front of cameras and proclaimed, respectively, ‘The actions of officers North and Poole leading up to the shooting violated RPD policy and were not consistent with RPD training or sound tactics,’ and, ‘I have grave concerns about what occurred that afternoon. It’s out of alignment with policies and procedures.’
“The administrative charges do not specify what Oda did to amount to a violation. The rules of conduct are so vague, general and non-specific that they fail to inform any intelligent person as to what the alleged violations are. Training, tactics, and policies or procedures are not referred to in the administrative charges against Oda.
“On August 24, 2009, Officer Oda Poole and Officer Stan North bravely performed their professional responsibilities according to their training and acted consistently with the rules and regulations of the Rockford Police Department. Had they failed to attempt to apprehend Mr. Barmore, they surely would have been accused of not properly fulfilling their responsibilities to the community and Rockford Police Department. The facts are absolutely clear that Mr. Barmore lunged at my husband and grabbed the barrel of his gun, attempting to direct it back at Oda. It must respectively be remembered that Mr. Barmore’s unfortunate death was caused by his own misconduct.”
Meantime, the city’s press release stated, “Ongoing efforts to improve the department will proceed in addition to any corrective action involving the individual officers.”
Epperson explained: “We are working on a number of initiatives throughout the Police Department to put the lessons learned in this event to good use. These include improvements responsive to the recommendations from the Independent Assessment and Monitoring, LLP, report, the department’s analysis of the incident and our ongoing community mediation process through the Department of Justice.
“The Rockford Police Department recognizes the need to improve our police organization,” he added. “I have every confidence that our organization will improve and will work every day to earn the trust of our community.”
→ Denying a request by developer Dan Tonnesen, president of Anchor Group, who is asking the city to forgive 30-year Community Development Block Grant loans totaling $324,000. The loans were issued in 1995 as part of the St. Paul’s Place Target Area program to house social service clients.
→ Approving a $30,000 funding request by the Midtown District for 2010. The funds will be allocated from Midtown’s successful Seventh Street Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District. Aldermen Linda McNeely (D-13) and Joe Sosnowski (R-1) voted “no.” Rather than being used solely for reinvestment in Midtown, the TIF district’s revenue is also being used to fund other groups, and to help other TIF districts that are in the red. July 19, aldermen will decide whether The Element—a downtown-oriented organization—will receive $75,000 from the Seventh Street TIF District.
→ Approving a $75,000 task order for McMahon Associates for work related to site decommissioning as part of the city’s ongoing water system rehabilitation. Ald. McNeely voted “no.” In related news, a public hearing was held regarding the issuance of $3.4 million in general obligation bonds related to the water system upgrades.
→ Appointing Ellen Burgeson & Associates as the grant administrator related to the Keith Creek flood mitigation program. The firm will be paid up to $22,000 from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant funds used for the project.
→ Authorizing the Human Services Department to lease office space in the county’s City Plaza building at 555 N. Court St., which was purchased recently for $775,000.
→ Authorizing the sale of a city-owned vacant lot at 617 Fisher Ave. for a minimum bid of $550. Ald. McNeely voted “no,” suggesting the starting bid was too low.
→ Authorizing the allocation of $700,000 in Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds for work related to the Kishwaukee Street bridge over Keith Creek.
→ De-obligating $436,774 in unused federal stimulus dollars left over after recent road projects to be used for the resurfacing of Spring Brook Road, per an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation. The city’s cost for the project is expected to be $58,226.
Jim Buckingham accused Mayor Morrissey of “strong-arm tactics,” questionable transparency and playing games with city funds.
“I’m convinced there’s plenty of money to protect the citizens of Rockford with the safety they are comfortable with, and not what this mayor is comfortable with,” Buckingham said, alleging the mayor has millions of dollars tucked away for other “rainy day” projects. “These dollars are not for the mayor to treat as his own personal piggy bank.”
Buckingham also accused the mayor of misusing the police and fire chiefs to carry out his alleged agenda with regard to cuts in public safety, adding that Morrissey is now on his “domestic enemy list.”
Prophet Yusef encouraged city leaders to consider a variety of musical events downtown from week to week, including gospel, blues, country, Motown, R&B, doo-wop, Hispanic and jazz. Yusef said that, by offering more diverse musical programming downtown, area businesses and the city would benefit from additional dollars generated by visitors.
The week of July 12 was proclaimed Rockford Chamber of Commerce Week in honor of the chamber’s 100th anniversary July 13. All 14 original charter members are still in business today, and the group’s membership has risen to 1,400.
Ald. John Beck (R-12) was absent. Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) left the meeting early.
From the July 14-20, 2010 issue