BELVIDERE (WREX) — Over the course of 7 months, 13 Investigates has pored over thousands pages of documents, interviewed dozens of people, and investigated their claims of excessive force by the Belvidere Police Department.
What we found in our search through public records and interviews is the police department has been named in at least 12 lawsuits for police misconduct, it has paid tens of thousands of dollars to settle many of those claims, and two officers, who combined were named in half of those lawsuits, are still on the force today.
In one alleged incident, a driver was pulled over for a burnt out license plate light. He ended up charged with a felony because one of the officers involved in his arrest, was injured during the arrest.
Court records show the felony charge was dropped and the driver ended up with a $10,000 settlement from Belvidere Police.
This wasn't the first time Belvidere Police were accused of using excessive force and misconduct. And it wouldn't be the last.
Taylor Anguiano is behind bars at the Stateville Correctional Center, convicted of aggravated battery to a senior citizen and a peace officer. Those are crimes he says he didn't commit. Instead, he says he's the victim of excessive force by Belvidere Police.
"He grabbed his pepper spray and he put his knee right here on my face onto the grass and held my mouth open and sprayed the pepper spray down my throat," Anguiano told 13 Investigates when we went to visit him in prison.
He says the officer repeatedly punched him, however, the Boone County State's Attorney's Office says he was the aggressor, macing two officers and punching one in the face.
"They also said you punched an officer, too. Did you do that?" 13 Investigates asked.
Taylor told us no.
"I was already handcuffed. I was pretty helpless," he said.
There is video of the night of Anguiano's arrest. You can see Anguiano gasping for air and begging for help for at least 10 minutes. That's when the video ends. Five hours later, Anguiano ended up not in a jail cell, but in a hospital bed.
"I woke up a couple days later. I remember the nurse told me that I had 12 lumps on my head. I had two black eyes, I had scratches, hematoma contusions. I had fractured ribs," Anguiano said.
The City of Belvidere gave 13 Investigates dash cam video from the squad cars on scene that day, but none of them captured what happened during the arrest.
But Anguiano is not alone in his claims of excessive force at the hands of Belvidere Police.
"I put my hands behind my back and he was still hitting me," Kyler Cisneros told 13 Investigates.
Tammy Alm said, pointing to her chin "I had a bruise here from him throwing me." Amber Simpson was there the night of this alleged incident and says she doesn't understand how both women were arrested and charged with resisting.
"I think it was just to add another charge because he could," Simpson said.
Zak Kasprzycki also spoke to 13 Investigates about his accusations.
"One of them had my arm this way, one of them had my arm this way, and they're still moving them around yelling 'Stop resisting,'" Kasprzycki said.
These four people are all talking about separate incidents. None of them filed formal complaints, but they tell 13 Investigates their arrests by Belvidere Police left them with cracked ribs, bruised faces, black eyes and charges they didn't deserve.
It's not just accusations of excessive force they have in common.
They say the ones who used that force were either Officer Ryan Davenport or Officer Brandon Parker.
13 Investigates took a closer look at these officers, starting with their arrest history over the past 2 years. Out of 30 patrol officers on the force, Davenport and Parker made fewer arrests than half of them, but they still lead their department with resisting arrest charges. Combined, the two officers make up more than 23 percent of all resisting charges for the entire department.
We reached out to Parker and Davenport for comment as well as Chief of Police Shane Woody and Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain. The city attorney denied our request, saying the police department treats all complaints and allegations seriously and that the Belvidere Police Department has "a very strong culture of positive service to the community." The statement went on to say appropriate discipline of officers is given when warranted.
But as 13 Investigates found out, rarely are officers with Belvidere Police ever disciplined after a complaint is made.
Belvidere Police say they received seven complaints from 2014 to 2018. That's as far back in the records it would give us. Three of the complaints involve Parker or Davenport.
One woman says Parker threatened to kill her son, report her to immigration, and shouted a racist expletive.
A man says Davenport maced him while he was on the ground after he was a victim of an assault.
At least three other officers were accused of beating people's heads in to the floor, unjustly macing people, and injuring them to the point of hospitalization.
The person who investigates these claims is the Belvidere Chief of Police.
Since becoming chief in 2018, Woody has cleared every officer of wrongdoing in complaints filed against them. In fact, there is no record of any officer being punished following any of these formal complaints except for one.
"Tom" asked us to hide his identity for his safety. He says an officer started yelling at him after taking a picture of Belvidere squad cars parked outside a local Starbucks. That's when Tom grabbed his phone, and started recording. That officer was Ryan Davenport.
"He was telling me that if I put the pictures or anything that I took on Facebook he was coming after me," Tom said.
In the video, you can hear Officer Davenport say, "If I find out that ends up on Facebook, I'm coming after you."
Tom says Davenport back-handed him during the incident, hitting his hand, camera and his face.
Tom filed a complaint with then-Chief Jan Noble, and Officer Davenport was suspended without pay for 24 hours for "conduct unbecoming," saying police members should "control their temper." Officer Davenport was also ordered to undergo "social conflict control" training.
Tom says after he filed that report, Chief Woody, who at the time was deputy chief of the department, called him down to the station.
"He put a paper in front of me, and it was a paper for me to sign that stated that I was agreeing not to press charges against the officer," Tom said. "And I felt at the time that if I didn't do that, it wasn't going to be investigated right and nothing was going to come from it."
Tom says he signed the waiver of criminal prosecution form and left the department with a target on his back, alleging law enforcement in Belvidere and Boone County started harassing his family and following them.
"And enough was enough. And we picked up and left. I mean literally picked up and left and moved out of state because of not wanting to deal with the harassment anymore," he said.
Civil rights attorney Louis Meyer says he's more than familiar with police in Belvidere, saying his office is looking into repeat offenders.
"Unfortunately we've received numerous calls for police misconduct cases involving the Belvidere Police Department," Meyer told 13 Investigates.
He says his firm has handled at least seven cases out of Belvidere in the past 3 years — all for police misconduct.
"For a department that size, that's a lot," Meyer said.
13 Investigates found records of more than a dozen lawsuits from 2001 to 2019. Davenport is named in at least one; Parker in at least five.
City records show a total of $73,000 has been paid out to people in settlements involving Belvidere Police. The settlements Parker's been named in total nearly $60,000. Some of the people paid, signed agreements not to publicly talk about the incident or the officers.
"It protects the officers because it's not in the public so people don't raise uproar about it," Meyer said.
That's why Meyer can't publicly tell 13 Investigates which officers his clients have accused of misconduct.
The people we did interview say they're done staying silent, and they want Belvidere Police to hold officers accountable.
"Somebody needs to take a stand and it needs to stop now," Tammy Alm said.
When we asked Taylor Anguiano, who has a handful of criminal convictions in his past, why we should believe him, he said this: "Because it's the truth."