After the County Board agreed to a $900,000 lawsuit settlement, the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department is looking into increased regular training for its personnel.
Sheriff Rick Watson said his office is looking into adding the Lexipol training system.
Lexipol includes updates based on case law, state law or federal law, and has 5- to 7-minute reviews for department personnel to go over during each shift. There also are quizzes for officers to take with reviews on how a policy would apply in a real-life situation, Watson said.
“I believe in the end, it will be very beneficial to us and the taxpayers,” Watson said. “Taxpayers are the ones who pay these lawsuits.”
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Subscribing and implementing the Lexipol system would include a $30,000 up-front cost, with an annual $20,000 maintenance fee, Watson said.
The increased training comes after the county agreed Monday to a $900,000 settlement with Trevon Yates, who in a federal lawsuit alleged he was coerced into giving a false confession in a 2013 armed robbery. It was later determined by a clinical psychologist that Yates has a diminished IQ and couldn’t knowingly waive his Miranda Rights. However, the then-17-year-old spent nine months in jail because he was unable to post bail.
The county, in the settlement, denied wrongdoing.
I believe in the end, it will be very beneficial to us and the taxpayers. Taxpayers are the ones who pay these lawsuits.
Rick Watson, St. Clair County sheriff, on new training for detectives
Tom Ysursa, the attorney who represented the county in the civil lawsuit, pointed out the clinical psychologist who determined Yates had a diminished IQ also said there were no signs investigators should have known about Yates’ mental deficiencies.
Watson said the sheriff’s office couldn’t comment directly on the Yates case.
“Whenever we get a confession, we’ll make sure we have some good physical evidence that goes along with it and follow up on it,” Watson said. “But in some instances it’s very difficult.”
He added there are department personnel working on their doctorate degrees, who are researching cases and bringing information back to the office to help safeguard against future issues.
“I don’t see it happening again,” Watson said. “You can get me one time, but you won’t get me again.”
Ysursa added the sheriff’s office personnel receive continuous training throughout their career and continue to train deputies and investigators to help ensure there are no issues in the future.
Yates’ lawsuit named St. Clair County sheriff’s investigators Kenneth McHughes, Frank Bennett, Brian Cregger, Scott Toth, Maurice McMiller and Jason Robertson, as well as Lt. Scott Weymouth and Sgt. George Mokriakow.
They are all still with the department. Weymouth is now a captain and Mokriakow is now a lieutenant, according to county records. McMiller has been promoted to sergeant.
Robertson and Cregger work as patrol sergeants while Bennett, Toth and McHughes are still investigators.
Watson said people were not reassigned or disciplined after the case.
“It could happen to any of us,” Watson said. “It isn’t one place will have more (lawsuits) than another.”
It could happen to any of us. It isn’t one place will have more (lawsuits) than another.
Rick Watson, St. Clair County sheriff
Earlier this year, St. Clair County settled another lawsuit against the sheriff’s office which alleged a coerced confession. St. Clair County agreed to pay Marlon Miller $40,000 in July.
Miller initially was accused of an armed robbery and rape at an East St. Louis MetroLink station. He spent three and a half months in jail before the charges were dropped.
The lawsuit was initially filed against former Detective Orlando Ward of the East St. Louis Police Department, but the sheriff’s office was later named as a defendant in the case because Deputy Romero Davis assisted in the investigation and was working MetroLink security.
Miller, in his lawsuit, alleged Davis promised Miller numerous things, including his freedom if he would admit to a robbery.
It was also alleged Davis “threatened and cajoled the plaintiff (Miller) into admitting to a robbery and implicated that failing to do so would have adverse implications to his family,” according to the federal lawsuit.
Just like in the in the Yates lawsuit, the county denied fault or wrongdoing in the Miller lawsuit, Watson said.
Even with the large settlement from Monday, the case is not expected to have any bearing on other cases in which the investigators are involved.
Bill Schroeder, a law professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said the case and the settlement shouldn’t have any effect on other prosecutions.
Schroeder said it only would be a potential problem if there was a pattern of such issues with the investigators involved.
“They have to have more than one case where something happened. This is just a single case,” Schroeder said, referring to the Yates case.
They have to have more than one case where something happened. This is just a single case.
Bill Schroeder, law professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, on future credibility of the detectives as witnesses
Schroeder said it doesn’t appear the tactics used by investigators were particularly egregious.
State’s Attorney Brenden Kelly’s office said the Yates case has not affected other cases, and doesn’t expect it to.
Earlier this year Kelly announced he would not accept cases from the Brooklyn Police Department, citing problems with that department’s evidence vault being in disrepair, not having a documented chain of custody for an undetermined amount of items including guns, and not accounting for marijuana and controlled substances listed as evidence in police reports.
Ysursa said one case doesn’t affect an investigation of another case.
“I cannot imagine any methodology where that would be admissible,” Ysursa said.
At a glance
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Juvenile Justice Center says there are five key issues with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office interrogation of Trevon Yates. (Yates, then 17, was considered an adult when he was charged in 2013).
- Yates began his interrogation professing his innocence.
- Interrogator falsely tells Yates that someone identified him in a photograph.
- Interrogator promises Yates leniency if he confesses.
- Interrogator feeds facts about the crime to Yates.
- Yates is unable to guess facts about the crime without his interrogator’s help.