A Collinsville, Illinois, police officer has been charged with four counts of obstruction after pulling over a motorist without cause.
Tillman pulled over Cheryl Helfrich, 50, of Maryville for failure to display any registration and claimed to find a “crack pipe” inside Helfrich’s car. He arrested the woman and the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office charged her with unlawful possession of a controlled substance on Jan. 18.
Then, in March, the woman’s attorney told the state’s attorney that Helfrich did have temporary registration affixed to her car at the time of the stop and asked whether a video or audio recording was made of the incident as it wasn’t mentioned in Tillman’s report, according to a press release from the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Per procedure, the Collinsville police department requires in-car videos to be logged if the end result is a felony charge.
The state’s attorney’s office reviewed the tapes and discovered Helfrich did have a valid temporary registration on her vehicle, even though it is not mentioned in Tillman’s report. His report also did not log any video or audio recording into evidence. The recording, which also showed Helfrich was Tillman’s neighbor, was backed up by the department’s system, according to the release.
The state’s attorney’s office dismissed the felony charge against Helfrich on March 13 and began reviewing Tillman’s actions.
“There is no allegation that the evidence was planted, but because it was an unlawful stop, it would have probably been inadmissible in court,” said Stephanee Smith, spokeswoman for the state’s attorney.
The Collinsville police department suspended Tillman, according to the release.
State’s Attorney Thomas Gibbons commended the Collinsville police for investigating the matter and bringing it to his attention.
It’s nice to see an officer held accountable for an illegal stop, lying about the registration, and for apparently either failing to turn on his dash camera or erasing the video after the fact. But these are pretty serious charges, and seem a bit out of place for jurisdiction known for bad stops and questionable searches.
I thought at first that this might be a reaction to the negative publicity over the Terrance Huff case, but the grand jury investigation began about two weeks before my Huffington Post article on Terrance Huff gave the story some national exposure, and about two months before Huff filed his lawsuit. So the timing doesn’t quite work.
To be fair, Collinsville Police Chief Scott Williams did initially try to fire Officer Michael Reichert, the cop involved in the Terrance Huff case (among others). It was a state appeals court that ordered Reichert back on the force. Williams also then went on to give Reichert awards, has since publicly defended him, and was rather duplicitous with me when I interviewed him. But a little empathy for Williams, here: I’d imagine it’s pretty damned difficult to balance a desire to do the right thing with pushback from a cop-friendly appeals court, with abiding by the terms of a police union contract he didn’t negotiate, with trying to simultaneously maintain morale among, respect from, and authority over the officers in his department.
That isn’t to say I agree with all of Williams’ decisions. I’m only pointing out that generally speaking, even a conscientious, well-intentioned police chief can catch a lot of blowback from a lot of different places when he tries to start holding bad cops accountable.
Just look at what they’re doing to Chief Ken Burton in Columbia, Missouri.