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McLean County jury acquits former Watsekan, VanHoveln, of all charges

BLOOMINGTON — A jury deliberated just 90 minutes (Thursday) before acquitting former Bloomington police officer Brent VanHoveln of all counts in his forgery and official misconduct trial.

VanHoveln was accused of falsifying more than a dozen traffic citations that he turned into the Bloomington PD, but did not give to drivers. The tickets, written as compliance citations, were part of the former officer's effort to meet a department quota.

(A new state law bans the use of quotas by police departments).

VanHoveln was fired in May 2014 after 19 years on the force.

After the verdicts were returned, he said his next goal is to return to work.

"I want to finish my career with dignity. I want to go back to serving the people of this community. I think justice prevailed and the truth finally came out," said VanHoveln, who was surrounded by family and friends in the courtroom.

VanHoveln's lawyer (Stephanie Wong) said "it's been a long two years. I'm so thankful for the careful consideration and hard work of this jury."

Assistant State's Attorney Samantha Walley argued in her closing arguments Thursday afternoon that VanHoveln's low traffic numbers were behind his decision to turn in phony tickets written after five accidents he handled in January and February 2014. The only person who saw a benefit from the alleged false tickets was VanHoveln, she said. The prosecutor asked the jury to reject defense arguments that the tickets were turned in to meet a quota imposed by the department.

Wong closed her case with a theme she held throughout the four day trial.

"This was a work related issue and that's where this case should have stayed. It's not a crime," she said.
Much of the defense challenge to the charges centered on the city's inability to produce the alleged tickets. Computer records of the traffic incidents that were created by a records clerk contained multiple errors, according to testimony.

Earlier today, Judge Casey Costigan denied a defense motion for a mistrial after defense counsel Wong complained the state did not disclose information about a BPD probe of one of the clerk's records that showed a woman at an accident scene who had no connection to the incident.

Costigan agreed the information should have been given to the state by the police. The jury was told to ignore the testimony about that portion of the internal investigation into the tickets.

Immediately after the mistrial ruling, Walley asked that Wong be held in contempt of court for a reference she made Wednesday in a question to Assistant Chief Gary Sutherland.

She asked if Chief Brendan Heffner was "the same chief who dismissed a ticket."

References to any tickets other than those written by VanHoveln were barred in a pre-trial ruling. Costigan found no contempt, noting that he had handled the matter in a sidebar conversation with lawyers.

{Source: Bloomington Pantagraph}

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Police in standoff with armed man in Paxton

Several emergency agencies surrounded a Paxton house late Thursday afternoon, as a man in the house was reportedly armed with a gun and suicidal.

Paxton Police, Ford County Sheriff's Police and Gibson Area Ambulance personal were called to the home in the 1100 block of Eastview Drive about 4:45 pm. A woman reported that her husband had made suicidal threats and that she later heard the sound of a gunshot.

Police reported the man refused to exit the home.

All surrounding homes were evacuated upon the request of police, and bystanders on the street were asked to leave the area.

SWAT team members arrived at the scene just before 6:30 pm.
Volunteers for the Paxton Emergency Response Service were blocking traffic around the scene.

94.1 WGFA

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GCMS school building evacuated, written threat on wall

A middle school building in the GCMS district was evacuated Thursday after a threatening message was found written on a bathroom wall.

The message, written in pencil, was reported to the principal's office at about 10:20 am. GCMS Superintendent Anthony Galindo said the message stated, "they were going to blow up the school on 10/8."

The middle school was evacuated. Students and staff moved to the elementary school.

After a search, an all-clear was given about 1:30 pm and students and staff were allowed to return by 2 pm.
Gibson City police were called to investigate the threat.

94.1 WGFA

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National Fire Prevention Week continues...

Fire officials are urging safety while pushing fire prevention education during National Fire Prevention Week.  Several area fire departments are taking time to stress education.  School children are visiting fire departments to learn about fire safety.  Iroquois County's recent Camp 9-1-1 also promoted fire safety to 2nd and 3rd graders during its month-long educational program in September.

Local fire officials and the state Fire Marshall's Office say Fire Prevention week is a good time to check the batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. 

The Watseka Fire department is also continuing its effort to assist those homeowners who may have trouble financially in getting a smoke detector installed. Citizens can call the non-emergency phone number at 815-432-3848 to request a detector.  Fire department members will visit homes for a free installation.  The department simply asks for about 30 minutes of your time to visit about fire safety and make sure equipment is properly installed.

94.1 WGFA




  • Parent Category: News

St. John, IN crash kills recent Lowell High grad

A Lowell man died Wednesday in a single-vehicle rollover crash in St. John.

18-year-old Neko Romano was ejected from a pickup truck in the crash about 7 am on U.S. 231. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Lake County coroner's office.

Police said an investigation showed Romano was driving west on U.S. 231 when he traveled off the road on the south side. The truck then crossed the road and went off the north side before rolling over several times.

Investigators suspect speed and possibly foggy conditions contributed to the crash. The crash remains under investigation.

94.1 WGFA