Yes, I'm guilty! No, I'm innocent!
Wait...what day is it? Show your support: ShareThisMatt Mitchell is the Illinois State Police Trooper who killed two teen aged girls in a 2007 homicidal car accident caused by his driving over 120 mph while emailing. Although he was"on duty," Mitchell was on not an emergency call; he is simply 'prone' to having major accidents, one of which cost the city $1.7 million to settle a few years ago. (See earlier blog post for details of the crime and legal proceedings.) Last Friday, in exchange for pleading guilty to reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving, Mitchell was sentenced to two and a half years of probation. Yep. No jail time; a slap on the wrist. This Tuesday, he was suspended without pay. Apparently the prospect of a thinning wallet was too much punishment for Mitchell to bear.
This week, in a move that reveals the judicial system to be a sad farce, Mitchell recanted his guilty plea on the grounds that he did not believe a trial would be fair. (I wonder how many trials he has testified at? Those proceeding were sufficiently fair for Mitchell to be a participant. When he is a defendant, however, the system suddenly is unjust.) Bnd.com reports:
Illinois Trooper Matt Mitchell was under oath on Monday when he testified in civil court that he lied to a judge when...pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated reckless driving and reckless homicide. So, why isn't he charged with perjury? Perjury is the charge of making false statements under oath. And Mitchell was not under oath before St. Clair County Circuit Judge Jan Fiss on Friday when he pleaded guilty in criminal court in connection with the deaths of Jessica and Kelli Uhl in 2007.
The hearing on Monday was part of a $24 million case filed against the state of Illinois by the dead girls' parents. Although the state has sovereign immunity, it can be be held liable if Mitchell is found to have been negligent. As part of Mitchell's guilty plea, the Illinois attorney general's office signed a stipulation that he was"acting in the course of his employment as an Illinois state trooper" when the accident occurred, which makes him virtually immune from financial consequences from the suit. (As far as I know, the only way he would pay personally is if the parents successfully sued him in federal court and received punitive damages; in those circumstances, I believe he would be responsible for the punitive part...but I could be wrong.)
The guilty plea impacted him financially in quite another manner, however. Mitchell could not face"administrative action" -- meaning he could not be fired nor have his pay terminated -- while there was an open criminal case against him. Lt. Scott Compton of the State Police explained"it took so long" to suspend Mitchell's pay and to file a complaint that moves toward his dismissal"because the agency had to wait until the criminal proceeding was adjudicated." Now they may have to wait a little bit longer. They may even have to reinstate his $67,000 annual salary and keep paying out as they did over the two preceding years while Mitchell's attorney delayed and delayed and delayed. The timing of the cases are interesting. The civil one has already opened while a hearing on the criminal one -- presumably to consider the new 'wrinkle' -- has been pushed forward to open on May 3rd.
This is cynical maneuvering by Mitchell, pure and simple. Like most cops I know. either personally or through research, he will lie and prostitute the judicial system whenever it is to his advantage. During his guilty plea in criminal court, Mitchell claimed he would"forever regret" the deaths. On Monday, in a civil proceeding, Mitchell refused even to admit he had caused the collision, claiming he had used"reasonable care" and resurrecting the widely -discredited"white car" that had cut him off. This is a game he is willing to play with the corpses of teenagers in the presence of grieving parents. The father's testimony at the civil hearing was particularly wrenching, On his way to work, he detoured around the crash site that was his daughters' death scene but did not find out about them until he arrived at work. The man described his response,"I screamed and I screamed and I yelled at God."
The only aspect of this unfolding story that is not literally sickening is the response of the State Police. They are obviously hanging Mitchell out to dry. SLToday reports, "Former Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent testified this morning [Tuesday] in a wrongful-death case against the state that Trooper Matt Mitchell's actions were irresponsible and reflected poor judgment....'It's indefensible,' Trent testified before a hearing officer for the Illinois Court of Claims. Trent was director when the crash occurred in late 2007." Why would law enforcement be willing to jeopardize its own immunity? There are at least four explanations, none of which are mutually exclusive:
1) The cops and judicial system may be enraged at Mitchell. He is playing by the same"fast-and-loose" rules with them that they play with average people; he is turning their weapons against them.
2) So much public outrage surrounds this case that it is rubbing off on the entire police and judicial system of Illinois. They may want to distance themselves at a double-trot.
3) Perhaps their attitude is"What the hey! Ultimately, it is just tax-payer's money."
4) There is a good chance Mitchell will be found 'not guilty.' Last Friday, he became the first copy in Illinois to be found guilty of a felony while on duty. Tradition in the law and corruption in the Illinois justice system are on his side.
I swear...I cannot tell if Mitchell's maneuvering reflects his arrogant, thuggish personality or whether he has extremely good legal advice.
Of one thing I am certain, however. The legal and so-called justice system is an engine of injustice and misery to the innocent.
For more commentary, please visit WendyMcElroy.com.
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