Trial starts for ex-Collinsville cop accused of harassing neighbor

News-DemocratJune 4, 2013 

— Opening statements were presented by both sides Tuesday morning as the trial of a former Collinsville police officer accused of obstructing justice began in Madison County.

Luke Tillman is facing a four-count indictment of obstructing justice for allegedly lying in a police report and hiding evidence connected with a felony case against his neighbor, Cheryl Helfrich.

The trial is expected to last through the rest of the week.

Tillman is represented by Dave Fahrenkamp of the Fahrenkamp Law Office in Edwardsville and Dustin Hudson and Francine Johnston of the Neubauer and Johnston Law Firm in Fairview Heights. Prosecuting the case are Madison County Assistant State's Attorneys Jim Buckley and Stephanie Black.

In their opening statements, prosecutors indicated their case will show Tillman lied on his report while the defense said Tillman simply made a mistake while filing his report and made the mistakes without intent, that he was being a good, proactive officer when he noticed a known felon and pulled her over for not having a valid registration.

"This case is about a cop who stopped a crackhead in a car," Fahrenkamp told the jury. "She had no insurance. She had a passenger in the car with a warrant, and she had a history of drug abuse. A lot of people claim they are harassed by cops. You may break the law and claim harassment but you are still breaking the darn law."

Tillman pulled Helfrich, then 50, over on Nov. 16, 2011 for not having valid registration and found what was purported to be a crack pipe in her vehicle. Helfrich lived across the street from Tillman and has claimed he regularly harassed and targeted her.

Helfrich was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance but that case was later dismissed when a review of the stop revealed Tillman failed to note in his report that there was a video and audio recording of the stop, and because the video showed Helfrich did have a temporary registration permit on her vehicle, Tillman did not have probable cause to stop her.

Per procedure, the Collinsville Police Department requires all audio and video of a stop to be filed with the report if the end result is a felony charge.

"He lied in his police report and covered up the fact there was video and audio evidence," Buckley said during his opening statement. "He unfairly targeted his neighbor. There are those of us who don't want to have some of our neighbors as neighbors, but, we are stuck with them. We can't use police power to abuse, harass, and threaten."

A review of the video showed Helfrich had a valid temporary permit affixed to her car, which Tillman noted on the first page of his report but not in the narrative of the report, according to the state's first witness, Collinsville Detective Christopher Mueth.

Mueth reviewed the report presented by Tillman before seeking charges against Helfrich from the Madison County state's attorney. He said he did not request any video evidence to present to the state's attorney while seeking charges against Helfrich because he did not know such video existed as it was not noted on Tillman's report nor logged as evidence.

Tillman was placed on paid leave and later was fired from the Collinsville Police Department.

Helfrich later filed suit in federal court against the city and against Tillman, alleging Tillman pulled her over many times without cause to harass her and told her he was going to put her in prison no matter what it took. Helfrich admitted she has a history of drug use but had been clean for months prior to the arrest by Tillman and discovery of the drug paraphernalia in her vehicle.

If convicted of the felony charges, Tillman faces probation or up to three years in prison for each count

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