BELVIDERE (WREX) — For the second time this year, 13 Investigates is looking into allegations of excessive force at the Belvidere Police Department. This latest investigation comes after three new lawsuits were filed , all of them from men saying arrests with Belvidere Police landed them in the hospital. All three lawsuits name Officer Brandon Parker.
Officer Parker was a subject in our February 2020 investigation into excessive use of force allegations. Multiple people came forward accusing him and other officers on the department of abusing their power.
Following our investigation, even more people came forward with similar allegations at a Belvidere City Council meeting. Despite their allegations, and at least a dozen lawsuits involving police officers, Chief of Police Shane Woody and Mayor Mike Chamberlain chastised our report and stood by the officers.
"I know the whole truth. I've looked at all the information and that, what you saw on 13, was nothing compared to what the reality is," said Woody in February of 2020.
"We don't beat up people. We subdue them and take them to the ground so we can control the situation," said Chamberlain at that same City Hall meeting.
But the two refused to explain "the whole truth," and denied 13 Investigates an on-camera interview then and now. This time, citing pending litigation, but maintaining in a letter, "all complaints are investigated thoroughly" and appropriate discipline is given "when warranted".
13 Investigates interviewed a nationally recognized expert on police use of force, Michael Leonesio, to review the latest claims and how the city is handling them.
"It certainly raises some concerns," said Leonesio.
We showed him dashcam video of a stop Officer Parker did on two people who were walking on a sidewalk. In the video Parker says, "You both look a little young to be out."
It turns out the man in the video is 24, not too young to be out. But Officer Parker wouldn't know that because he never asked for ID or any information, for that matter.
"I didn't see any investigation. And that becomes a big problem," said Leonesio.
Parker then tells the man to take his hands out of his pockets and yells, "Don't move!" before kicking the man into the street, and out of view of the dashcam. Once off camera, Officer Parker gives his K9 the order to engage. In his police report he said it's because the man punched him, though the lawsuit disputes the man ever hit Officer Parker.
"Would you consider this excessive use of force?" we ask Leonesio.
"It could be, " he responds. "It's difficult to say just based on seconds of video."
We also showed Leonesio the police report. Parker says he stopped the couple because he thought they might be breaking curfew. Once out of his car, he writes that it looked like the man was doing something with his hands, and that he didn't know if the girl was "being held hostage."
"There was no indication as you saw them walking up the street that the female was a hostage," said Leonesio. "That's a bit of a leap."
Also in Officer Parker's police report, he writes, "I placed my right foot" on the man's right side. Leonesio said that's not what he did, he kicked him. And said that is not a trained tactic he has ever seen used by police in stops.
In another arrest involving Officer Parker, a man named Adam Fick refused to give officers his name. He was being arrested for obstruction of justice, then has a struggle with the officers, and Officer Parker's K9 is let out of the car and bites him. He was taken to the hospital for his injuries. See Fick's lawsuit here.
Fick's attorney, Patrick Moore, said what Officer Parker said happened in his police report and what the dashcam shows do not match up.
"Officer Parker released the dog on Fick. Both Officer Parker and Officer Zapf after the incident discuss how Officer Parker was the one who released the dog," said Moore. "And yet Officer Parker's report claims that it was Mr. Fick who released the dog himself."
But Leonesio said there is a bigger problem in his eyes with the arrest.
"The act that he was commanding him to bite is the concerning part to me," he said.
The Belvidere Police Department didn't see it that way. It decided the use of force was justified, because it said Fick made a fist and Parker took that as a threat he would punch him.
Federal court records show city attorneys deny excessive force was used in this case, saying Officer Parker reacted in "and objective, reasonable way".
Parker, himself, wrote in a report, "If Adam would have cooperated and not fought, he wouldn't have been injured."
"While I did see active resistance, I didn't see anything at that point that in my view would have risen to the level of a dog deployment," said Leonesio.
During the arrest of Fick, one of Fick's friends was recording on his cell phone. Dashcam video shows Officer Parker yelling at the man, "Put the phone down!" A command Leonesio said Officer Parker has no right to make.
"There's nothing illegal about a person being in a public place, filming police doing their work," he said.
Then, Officer Parker took the phone away from the man. That phone was never returned to the man; it is still in the hands of officials. Leonesio says that's a potential Fourth Amendment violation.
The third lawsuit involves a man who claims multiple officers, including Officer Parker, hit him repeatedly because he did not want to lie down on the ground in dog feces to be arrested. Police reports show one officer admits to hitting him twice in the face because he would not comply and lie on the ground so he could be arrested. The man was taken to the hospital with a broken eye socket and nose.
After showing Leonesio all the evidence, we asked what should happen next with the Belvidere Police Department. His answer? An outside investigation.
"That is certainly the way to go at this stage," he said.
After our last 13 Investigates report, Ald. Marsha Freeman called for an outside investigation during a city council meeting.
"It is my recommendation that we commission an unbiased outside entity to continue the investigation and get to the bottom of the allegations," she said in March of 2020.
But council never approved one.
"Those concerns need to be addressed," said Leonesio.
The question is with these new lawsuits and allegations, will they be addressed now?