Officers in court Wednesday in brutality case
March 17, 2009
By Ryan Ori

PEORIA -- Two Peoria police officers arrested after a brutality claim will appear in court Wednesday, when Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons said he plans to read a copy of the complaint and factual basis for their arrest.

The officers, Andrew R. Smith, 29, and Gerald W. Suelter, 39, were arrested about 7:20 p.m. Monday by investigators from the state's attorney's office.

Both were booked at Peoria County Jail on identical charges of four counts of official misconduct, aggravated battery, battery and mob action in connection with the alleged beating of Peorian Bryce R. Scott on May 3.

Originally, it was thought the officers could have bond hearings Tuesday. Prosecutors have 48 hours to charge, and Lyons said his office typically does not set next-day bond hearings for arrests made after 5 p.m. Lyons would not comment on the case until after Wednesday's hearing.

Chief Steven Settingsgaard said that per Peoria Police Department policy, Suelter and Smith are on paid leave. If they are formally charged with a felony, they would be moved to unpaid leave.

An internal investigation of the incident is ongoing, Settingsgaard said, and it is not known what punishments could result. Settingsgaard said criminal charges are weighed in when determining the outcome of an investigation.

Scott is in Peoria County Jail awaiting trial on drug charges unrelated to the May 3 traffic stop. In October, a Peoria County grand jury indicted Scott on charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession with intent to deliver.

On Jan. 13, Scott filed a lawsuit in Peoria County Circuit Court in which he claims he was pepper-sprayed, stomped, kicked, Tased and punched after he complied with officers' demands during the stop.

The suit names the city and six officers - Smith, Suelter, Timothy Wight, Jeremy Layman, James Krider and Conor Wowra - as defendants. Scott seeks in excess of $50,000 on each count in the suit. No trial date has been set.

Scott's attorney in the civil suit, Dan Cusack, said he and his client were asked to participate in the Peoria Police Department's internal investigation, but declined.

"I didn't trust it," Cusack said.

Cusack said he and Scott did answer questions and review footage of the alleged beating, taken from a digital video camera inside a police car, as part of an investigation conducted by the state's attorney's office. Investigators from that office were the ones who arrested Suelter and Smith on Monday.

"Bryce is relieved," Cusack said. "We were asked to participate in an internal investigation. We didn't want to do that. We were contacted independently by the state's attorney's office. I felt more comfortable participating in that, so we did."

"This shouldn't happen. You cannot beat people up."

According to police, Scott led them on a chase after they were called to the home of Scott's girlfriend. In-car video shows Scott driving with police in pursuit, until he stopped near Woodruff High School at the bottom of the Abington Street hill.

Police surrounded Scott, who can be seen on the video putting his hands out the window. Police took Scott to the ground. In many parts of the video, Scott and some of the police are partially or fully out of the camera's view.

But Cusack said he believes the video shows enough to back up Scott's brutality claims. When the suit was filed, Cusack also displayed photos of Scott's bloodied face.

"The state's attorney conducted a full investigation," Cusack said. "I think he's courageous for going after these guys. If we didn't have the tape, we wouldn't have a case. Nobody would believe Bryce."

Officers said Scott became combative while on the ground, at one point grabbing the leg of an officer and refusing to let go.

No formal charges were filed against Scott relating to the May 3 run-in with police.

During a January news conference following the filing of Scott's lawsuit, Settingsgaard said the department was considering changing its policy to require in-car video to be reviewed by a supervisor anytime force is used in an arrest. On Tuesday, Settingsgaard said it was too soon to offer specifics but said policy changes are forthcoming.