Jury: Ex-Collinsville cop is not guilty

News-DemocratJune 7, 2013 

— After deliberating for just more than four hours, a jury returned a not guilty verdict on all three counts of obstruction of justice charges against a former Collinsville police officer.

"It's awesome," Tillman said of the verdict. "There is a lot of relief and now I'm going to go home and take a week off."

The obstruction of justice trial for Luke Tillman began Tuesday in Madison County.

"I'm glad for this verdict," said one of Tillman's attorneys, Dave Fahrenkamp. "He's a good man and good cop and I'm proud to represent him."

The jury sent out several questions during their deliberations, including a question that inquired if Tillman could be charged with something different and a request for a photo of a Collinsville squad car.

Another question asked if Tillman's police report and the documentation showing Cheryl Helfrich had a legal, valid permit were submitted together to the state's attorney and to the public defender in her case.

Tillman still faces a civil lawsuit in federal court filed by his former neighbor, Cheryl Helfrich. Helfrich named Tillman and the city of Collinsville in her suit, 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

In his closing arguments, Madison County Assistant State's Attorney Jim Buckley told the jury that Tillman acted as "judge and jury" when he omitted entering a video and audio DVD into evidence with his report.

After the not guilty verdict, Buckley said the state's attorney office is "disappointed in the verdict but we respect the jury system."

Tillman took the stand Friday morning in his own defense.

"On the November 2011 report: Did you lie?" asked Fahrenkamp.

"No," Tillman responded.

"Did you try to hide anything?" Fahrenkamp inquired.

"No, I did not," Tillman said.

Tillman was accused of lying in a police report connected to a 2011 traffic stop and subsequent felony charge against Helfrich. Helfrich was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance in connection with a crack pipe Tillman seized while searching her car. He pulled her over in November 2011, citing lack of registration on the vehicle as the reason for reasonable suspicion to pull her over. Helfrich did have valid registration on her vehicle at the time of the stop, and Tillman said he knew it was there but could not see the numbers on the permit clearly enough to determine whether the 7-day permit had expired.

The felony charge against Helfrich was dismissed because there was no valid reason to stop Helfrich and Tillman was subsequently charged in connection with the video and audio files that were not submitted by him as evidence.

Tillman's defense team has said that his failure to log the video as evidence was an oversight on his part, not an intentional omission and his superiors should have caught and remedied the error when reviewing the report he submitted.

"I expect them to catch any mistakes I might make and if I make a mistake I expect them to bring it to me so I can fix it," Tillman testified. "I'm not perfect. I make mistakes, but I'll fix it."

He testified that he did not log the video as evidence because, in his opinion, it did not add any evidenciary value to the felony charge against Tillman: Unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

"I didn't write her a ticket for no valid registration, I arrested her for unlawful possession of a controlled substance," Tillman said. "I don't think the video was evidence pertinent to the case, but, if anyone had asked for it, I would have given it to them, but I didn't think it was evidence in the unlawful possession of a controlled substance case."

He also testified, upon questioning by his attorney, that if he wanted to hide the traffic stop of Helfrich he could have just turned off the recording equipment at the time of the stop, or, later deleted the entire record from the police department's servers.

Tillman also testified that he teaches proper police report writing to college students and has written materials about the importance of accurate report writing.

The prosecuting attorneys, Jim Buckley and Stephanie Black, offered testimony and evidence that Tillman harrassed Helfrich and made it no secret he wanted her out of his neighborhood because of her drug use.

The prosecution offered evidence and testimony that Tillman knowingly failed to include the video and audio of the traffic stop because he wanted to see Helfrich prosecuted would do anything in his power to get her out of his neighborhood.

When asked by Fahrenkamp if he had a problem with Helfrich, Tillman responded: "In the beginning, I didn't have a problem with her. Then, it began to become a flophouse, or a halfway house, and she was bringing people in and it was becoming loud and obnoxious. There were lots of different people coming and going, at all times of day and night, which is very unusual for my neighborhood."

He added that as an officer, it is part of his job to be proactive on the streets and respond to suspicious activity or known criminals in the area in an attempt to thwart crime, not just respond when crime happens.

Tillman added that Helfrich is no longer his neighbor. Her house had been foreclosed on.

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

He is currently in arbitration discussion with the city over his firing, Tillman said.

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