This story is part of a partnership focusing on police misconduct in Champaign County between the Champaign-Urbana Civic Police Data Project of the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit public accountability journalism organization, and IPM Newsroom, which provides news about Illinois & in-depth reporting on Agriculture, Education, the Environment, Health, and Politics, powered by Illinois Public Media. This investigation was supported with funding from the Data-Driven Reporting Project, which is funded by the Google News Initiative in partnership with Northwestern University | Medill.
After Rantoul’s first-ever fatal police shootings in 2023, the Rantoul Police Department conducted internal reviews of both incidents.
In those internal reviews, the Use of Force Review Board — made up of different members in each incident — recommended further training for both the department and individual officers after absolving all but one officer of wrongdoing in both cases: the February 2023 shooting of 21-year-old Azaan Lee, and the June shooting of 18-year-old Jordan Richardson.
The Rantoul Police Department’s Use of Force Review Board recommended several department-level trainings, including reality-based training under stress, “force-on-force” training, using control tactics from multiple positions and a “refresher” on the department’s use of force policy.
However, Deputy Chief Justin Bouse confirmed the department has not implemented any of these trainings based on information obtained through open records requests from Invisible Institute and IPM News.
The department has been exploring the possibility of implementing the trainings this spring, Bouse said.. But the recommendations are not binding, he noted.
“Force on Force” training, as defined by the department, allows officers to respond to different scenarios in a controlled environment. At the RPD, this training involves officers shooting semi-automatic rifles and pistols with paint-filled bullets, which help simulate what interactions with armed community members might resemble.
Bouse said this training, in contrast to basic firearm training, can help officers better understand and prepare for what these scenarios will feel like in real life.
It’s common practice for police departments to recommend these trainings after fatal shootings, said University of Texas at Austin sociologist Michael Sierra-Arévalo, who wrote “The Danger Imperative: Violence, Death, and the Soul of Policing” about police training, culture, and violence. But more often than not, those trainings aren’t feasible for small departments to implement, he said.
“I don’t think there’s any department in the country that would say they don’t want to do those [trainings],” Sierra-Arévalo said. “So that as a recommendation for training strikes me as little more than a boilerplate wish list that you would see come out of the police academy.”
The department claimed they are still evaluating the cost of recommended trainings while working to “balance the need for comprehensive training with fiscal responsibility,” Bouse wrote in an emailed statement.
Use of force policies often prioritize officer lives over citizens
The department’s use of force policy plays a huge part in dictating whether officers are found guilty of misconduct. With most police use of force policies, if an officer feels his or her life is in danger, then the use of force is justified, said Sierra-Arévalo.
And even when departments implement training following fatal shootings – he said there’s no real evidence that they help.
“I think the simple fact is, you’re not going to train your way out of a lot of these problems.”
The best thing police departments can do, Sierra-Arévalo said, is closely examine everything that happened leading up to a fatal shooting — not just determine whether the officer followed protocol.
RPD said the Use of Force Review Board conducts a comprehensive review, including actions leading up to the use of force, de-escalation attempts, officer responses and whether officers placed themselves in situations necessitating the use of force.
However, activists have questioned whether both incidents needed to escalate into two fatal shootings, including local Rantoul resident Jayde Ray.
“I think these cases are pretty reflective of situations that didn’t need to escalate to this point at all based on the situations,” Ray said.
Departments should also do psychological evaluations for officers – and offer mental health services and breaks from patrol after high-stress situations, Sierra-Arévalo said. The department refused to comment on whether either Officer King or Aceves received psychological evaluations or mental health resources after the shootings.
Some activists have put forward the #8CANTWAIT campaign, which suggests eight basic policy changes departments can make to reduce police violence.
Those changes include requiring de-escalation, banning chokeholds and shooting at moving vehicles and mandating actions like warning before using deadly force. Out of the eight recommended changes, Rantoul’s current use of force policy only meets two — requiring officers to intervene in others’ misconduct and issuing warnings before using deadly force.
“My work would suggest that what you’re looking at here is just the logical outcome of a policing system that is designed to protect the lives of officers over their citizens,” Sierra-Arévalo said.
One officer was certified for a weapon two days after shooting
Officer Jerry King, who shot and killed Jordan Richardson, had his gun taken away — it was seized as evidence by the Illinois State Police in its investigation, said Bouse.
Then two days after the shooting, the department sent King to firearm training at a shooting range, to certify him for a new weapon, according to documents obtained by Invisible Institute and IPM Newsroom.
This training was necessary to ensure King was qualified to use his new duty firearm, Bouse said.
Nearly 90% of the core training for weapons/defensive tactics at U.S. police academies is dedicated to firearms skills and defensive maneuvers. In contrast, training with non-lethal weapons makes up for only about 11% of these hours according to a 2021 study.
Although firearm qualification is standard throughout the U.S., an independent evaluation of firearm training at the New York Police Department in 2008 said that shooting range training is not an effective way to evaluate if an officer can handle armed confrontations with community members.
“Shooting at paper targets on a known-distance range does not demonstrate that the officer has mastered his or her firearm and is ready for a shooting confrontation on the streets,” the report stated.
The state of Illinois requires firearm qualification training, Bouse said in an email, adding that shooting range training is imperative to ensure officers are “well-equipped to handle a variety of situations, enhances officers’ marksmanship skills and allows officers to stay abreast of the latest techniques and technology.”
While the department “recognizes the limitations of traditional shooting range training,” Bouse said they are “actively exploring alternative training avenues.” However, according to open records requests, none of these alternatives have been implemented.
The Rantoul Police Department continues to meet all state mandates for ongoing officer training, Bouse previously said in response to Invisible Institute and IPM Newsroom’s reporting on the Use of Force Review Board’s internal investigations.
RPD “has also been proactive in sending officers to additional training,” Bouse wrote in an email. These trainings include Crisis Intervention Team training, Non-Escalation & De-Escalation training and Control Tactics courses, according to the department.
Second officer resigned but was rehired in Champaign County
The department’s Use of Force Review Board had not recommended firearm training for King. However, the board did recommend training for Officer Jose Aceves, who shot and killed 21-year-old Azaan Lee with Lee’s own gun in February.
The Use of Force Review Board recommended firearm training for Officer Aceves to enhance his skills and ensure his use of firearms was in alignment with departmental standards, according to RPD.
Aceves resigned just over one month after Lee’s death, according to the records released by the village. The records confirm Aceves did not receive the additional firearm training.
Just five months later, Aceves applied to work at the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff.
Bouse, the Rantoul deputy chief, noted in interviews about Aceves’ performance with an investigator from the Sheriff’s Office that Aceves had pulled a woman from a car during a traffic stop while investigating a DUI. Bouse said Aceves did not violate the department’s policies but could have “just used better judgment,” according to a memo obtained through an open records request.
“Deputy Chief Justin Bouse stated Jose can perform the job of a police officer and will just need close monitoring by his FTOs to make sure he is making the best decisions,” Champaign County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Shannon Barrett wrote in the June 12, 2023 memo.
Despite this history, the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office hired Aceves that month. But two months later, in August, Aceves resigned before receiving any field training or beginning work. The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment about Aceves’s hire or departure.
Third officer was an instructor for the same rules he violated
The Rantoul department also released a certification showing that Officer Rene Wissel, who the board found violated the department’s use of force policy while arresting the driver in the Richardson shooting, completed one 8-hour de-escalation training class.
While arresting the driver of the car Richardson was in, Wissel violated three sections of RPD’s standards of conduct, including “unreasonable and unwarranted force, …exceeding lawful peace officer powers by unreasonable, unlawful, or excessive conduct” and using “obscene, indecent profane or derogatory language while on-duty.” The board also found he violated the use of force policy by not de-escalating the situation.
Officer Wissel is currently an instructor for arrest and control tactics at the Rantoul Police Department, Bouse said. Records show that he was certified as an instructor a month before the shooting, and had been serving as an instructor when he violated the department’s policies.
Control tactics instructors train groups within the department on applying force within the guidelines of the department’s code of conduct and use of force policies, according to the department. Despite his violation of the direct policies he instructs others to follow, Wissel remains an instructor, according to RPD.
Lack of transparency about training recommendations
The Use of Force Review Board’s internal investigations into the force used in both 2023 fatal shootings weren’t made available on the Rantoul Police Department’s transparency website until Invisible Institute and IPM Newsroom requested the documents through the state Freedom of Information Act.
If departments claim to be transparent with their communities, Sierra-Arévalo said they shouldn’t withhold crucial documents like these.
“That is antithetical to the practice or realization of transparency and trust between police and the public,” he said.
Bouse confirmed the FOIA request from Invisible Institute and IPM Newsroom prompted the RPD to make the documents available on the department’s transparency site.
“I agree that it should have been done at a sooner time after the Review Board met, and the findings were passed along to the chief,” Bouse said.
Local activist Derek Briles helped collect over 700 signatures from Champaign County residents for a petition demanding independent investigations into the force used in both shootings.
Activists like Briles have questioned the bias of the department’s internal review board and the state police’s investigation — which Bouse said both found the shootings were justified and no basis for criminal charges.
“The decision not to pursue further independent investigations is based on the confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the existing investigative processes,” Bouse wrote in a statement.
The petition has been delivered and local activists, including Briles, have spoken at several Rantoul Village Board meetings. However, the police department has yet to make any substantial changes.
“They have shown absolutely zero willingness to improve, to admit that things could have been handled differently, [and] to engage with the public in any way or any meaningful action following either shooting,” Briles said.
Farrah Anderson is an investigative reporting fellow with the Invisible Institute and Illinois Public Media and a journalism student at the University of Illinois. Follow her on Twitter @farrahsoa.