New court documents show top Champaign officials knew about problem officer before excessive force incidents

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Screenshot of the latest City of Champaign filing in an excessive force lawsuit filed by Precious Jackson.

Top Champaign officials had met with concerned citizens about the conduct of former police officer Matt Rush as far back as 2012 – well before four incidents that led to excessive force lawsuits, new documents filed in court Wednesday show.

On Nov. 6, 2012, then-mayor Don Gerard and longtime councilman and then-deputy mayor Tom Bruno met with citizens concerned about an incident where Rush punched Myron Scruggs in the face, breaking the orbital bone over his eye on Sept. 15, 2012.

This meeting is corroborated by a calendar entry by Bruno, though the city has no other evidence of the meeting and Bruno said he does not recall whether the meeting occurred, according to court documents filed by the city’s attorney.

Scruggs filed an official complaint about the incident with the Champaign Police Department that was determined to be “unfounded” on Oct. 30, 2012.

That ruling led Scruggs, Belden Fields, University of Illinois political science professor emeritus, and community activist Barbara Kessel to request to meet with Gerard and Bruno.

At the meeting, the parties discussed Rush’s behavior and the need for a citizen police review board, according to court documents.

Attorneys in this case have requested to depose Gerard and Bruno as well as stated their intention to use testimony about the meeting from Scruggs, Fields and Kessel.

The meeting shows that top officials were aware of and receiving complaints about Rush’s behavior before four incidents that occurred between June 2, 2013, and May 26, 2014, that led to lawsuits, including the one being litigated and three that have been settled for $320,000.

This meeting was at least the second time Champaign officials had received significant complaints about the conduct of Rush.

On Oct. 25, 2011, local activist Martel Miller and a number of other concerned citizens complained to the city council that Rush used excessive force in the arrest of Miller’s son, Calvin. The police department released video of Miller’s son disregarding traffic signals and jumping out of a moving van that went on to hit a home. However, the police did not have video of the force used in the actual arrest.

These latest documents come from a federal lawsuit stemming from the fourth and most recent incident, filed in February by attorney Shneur Nathan of Hale Law Firm in Chicago on behalf of Precious Jackson against Rush, two other officers and the city.

The city did not deny the meeting occurred in a motion to quash subpoenas for depositions for Bruno and Gerard.

In the motion, the city argues that the depositions are meant to embarrass the city, would lead to inadmissible evidence and would be duplications of testimony from Scruggs, Fields and Kessel about the meeting.

The lawsuit, filed in February, alleges that Rush and other officers used excessive force in an arrest of Jackson, who has a history of mental health issues, denied her medical care and falsely arrested her to cover up Rush’s actions.

The original complaint alleged that “Upon information and belief, the actions of Officer Rush also caused (Jackson) to lose her unborn child.”

However, the amended complaint acknowledged that Jackson was not pregnant at the time and changed the wording to “The actions of Officer Rush caused Plaintiff to suffer extreme emotional distress and psychological anguish because she believed that she lost an unborn child.”

Rush was fired in August 2014 after the incident for lying on police reports and misconduct that led to three separate internal investigations.

An independent arbitrator determined that Rush may not have intentionally omitted information from police reports and reduced his termination to 1-, 3- and 30-day suspensions in April 2015.

Rush later filed a lawsuit against Police Chief Anthony Cobb and NAACP President Patricia Avery, alleging the two conspired to fire him.

The lawsuit was dismissed and determined to be a nuisance lawsuit. Rush and his attorney, Michael Zopf, were fined and ordered to pay more than $14,000 in attorney’s fees for Cobb and Avery.

Rush was placed on unpaid leave in February 2016 after exhausting all of paid time off since being off duty after a series of stories by The News-Gazette into the lawsuits regarding his conduct.

Rush was then fired in April 2016 after an off-duty incident, where he represented himself as a police officer while “highly intoxicated,” showing his badge and a gun to employees at Fat City Bar and Grill in Champaign. He is appealing that termination.

Gerard served as Champaign’s mayor from 2011 to 2015, when he lost his re-election bid to current mayor Deb Feinen.

Bruno served as deputy mayor under Gerard and has served on the city council since 1997.

This article was updated on Nov. 18, 2016, to correct Myron Scruggs’ injuries. It was the orbital bone over his eye that was broken, not a fractured jaw as originally reported.