Illinois State Police exempt from state’s in-custody death rule

When 33-year-old Lamar Bell died in the custody of Illinois State Police troopers after a traffic stop, no outside agency or taskforce was activated to investigate.

That is despite the 2016 “Police and Community Relations Improvement Act,” which requires Illinois law enforcement agencies investigate officer-involved shootings, deadly use of force incidents and in-custody deaths utilizing personnel from outside the agency being investigated.

Those rules apply to all Illinois law enforcement agencies — except the Illinois State Police. The law includes a carve-out for them.

In the Rockford region, the Rockford Police Department, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, Loves Park Police, Boone County Sheriff’s Department and Belvidere Police among others have for years — even before the state law was enacted — utilized the Winnebago Boone County Integrity Task Force to investigate in-custody deaths and serious injuries.

The task force was formed in the wake of the 2009 shooting death of Mark Anthony Barmore in the basement daycare of a predominately Black church and in the presence of children. It was meant to prevent Rockford area police from investigating deaths that involve their own officers, adding a measure of transparency to the process and lending greater legitimacy to the investigations.

But Ann Rundall of Eliminate Racism 815 said that either way — whether detectives from outside an agency or from an internal affairs division — the investigation remains one conducted of police by police.

There needs to be more civilian oversight of police use of force and in-custody deaths, Rundall said.

“The Integrity Task Force I don’t feel is an independent group because it’s police officers, just from another area that evaluate their own, really,” Rundall said. “That’s why we felt it was important to have a civilian accountability board.”

Although it won’t have as much authority as she would like to see and lacks subpoena power, a civilian accountability board has been formed by the city of Rockford to review Rockford Police Department uses of force. The board is in training before it begins reviewing Rockford police incidents. Rundall said even after it begins reviewing cases, the civilian board will have no authority over Illinois State Police.

A screenshot from dash camera video show Illinois State Police searching the car of Lamar Bell during a traffic stop Sunday, July 16, 2023, in Rockford.

A screenshot from dash camera video show Illinois State Police searching the car of Lamar Bell during a traffic stop Sunday, July 16, 2023, in Rockford.

More: Illinois State Police release 3 videos from in-custody death of Rockford man

‘No traumatic injury’

Social media posts suggested Bell died as a result of an altercation with Rockford police during a traffic stop before 8 p.m. July 17 near the intersection of 10th Avenue and Kishwaukee Street.

Information and videos released by the Illinois State Police indicate those reports were false.

It turned out that it was actually Illinois State Police troopers that had stopped Bell and not Rockford officers.

During the traffic stop, Bell appeared to suffer a medical crisis, telling state police troopers that he had consumed cocaine and asking for an ambulance to be called.

Police said some narcotics were found in Bell’s vehicle.

According to information from the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office, an autopsy of Bell showed no “traumatic injury.”

Layers ensure integrity

In Winnebago and Boone counties, an Illinois State Police detective serves as commander of the integrity task force, but the State Police in not a participant.

The carve-out in state law reads as follows: “No investigator involved in the investigation may be employed by the law enforcement agency that employs the officer involved in the officer-involved death, unless the investigator is employed by the Illinois State Police and is not assigned to the same division or unit as the officer involved in the death.”

In the case of Lamar Bell, detectives from the State Police internal investigations division were assigned to examine the in-custody death in accordance with state law, Melaney Arnold, State Police chief public information officer, said in an email to the Rockford Register Star.

The State Police are treating Bell’s “medical emergency-related death” the same way it would for other in-custody deaths, Arnold said.

“All (internal affairs) investigations are subject to a myriad of state and federal laws and regulations with extensive layers of oversight, checks and balances,” Arnold said. “ISP goes to great lengths to ensure the integrity of all DII investigations. DII agents are required to recuse themselves if there is any real or perceived conflict of interest.”

‘A stronger department’

Whether investigations into in-custody deaths are conducted by a local or regional integrity task force or the Illinois State Police, the findings are presented to the local state’s attorney.

It is up to the state’s attorney to look at the evidence uncovered by the investigation and determine if there is evidence police broke any laws and if charges should be filed.

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said utilizing the task force for such investigations, which does not prevent an internal affairs review from proceeding simultaneously, has worked for the city.

“For the city of Rockford, we feel like it has been a benefit for us,” McNamara said. “It makes us a stronger department. To have someone else review our work enhances trust.”

Within the Illinois State Police, the Division of Internal Investigation is “a separate division created specifically to investigate allegations of misconduct by members of ISP, state employees and all state agencies under the executive branch of state government,” Arnold said. “This includes investigating officer-involved deaths. Agents are not in the unit they are investigating and are not involved in these incidents.”

Although State Police released video of the incident, investigators have not completed their investigation or presented their findings to Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley’s office.

Jeff Kolkey can be reached at (815) 987-1374, via email at and on Twitter @jeffkolkey.

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Illinois State Police investigates own in-custody deaths. Here’s why

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