MAHOMET, Ill. (WAND) – A Champaign woman who attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Mahomet has filed a formal complaint against the chief of police over what she calls “misconduct”.
In a letter to the police department, village administration and several members of the media, Rita Conerly said the chief, Mike Metzler, was “very confrontational and did not exhibit his training with deescalating the issues, but rather incited negative behavior through his own actions.”
According to Conerly and three other attendees of the rally, the chief did not allow the group of protesters to take part in their march and protest as outlined in the special events permit.
"I saw the chief of police come up and essentially antagonize the group from the very beginning,” Michelle Matthews told WAND.
Matthews, who has lived much of her life in Mahomet, said as a white woman, she was scared by the chief’s actions. Two other people WAND News talked to, including Paul Saban, said the chief’s actions concerned him, too.
"This is an issue we haven't seen in other towns, other small communities,” Saban, who has organized similar events in communities like Monticello, said.
One of the biggest complaints Conerly, Matthews and Saban had against the chief was he would not allow vehicles to take part in the protests. All three said the special events permit allowed for the use of vehicles; however, a copy of the permit provided by Chief Metzler to WAND News provides no information on the use of vehicles. Metzler told WAND News the permit did not allow for vehicles, and there was never any discussion of vehicles being a part of the protest.
In her complaint against the chief, Conerly wrote that she felt the chief’s “conduct included discriminatory harassment, unlawful stops and standing in front of vehicles, and threats to citizens that attempted to be peaceful with showing solidarity.”
During the march through town, Chief Metzler can be seen in videos provided to WAND News blocking a vehicle from moving. Metzler said he allowed two vehicles to take part in the march: one in the front with the group’s sound system and one in the back of the marchers. Metzler said the vehicle in the back, driven by Conerly, did not follow the guidelines he provided.
“I stood in front of one several times," the chief said when asked about allegations of standing in front of the vehicle. "The problem was that vehicle did not follow behind. Sometimes it got up into the crowd, to the middle of the crowd."
Another issue those upset with the chief was, they said, Metzler changed the route of the event the day of the protest.
Champaign-based Paign to Peace organized the event. Metzler and the group met prior to the protest on July 8 and discussed the protest, including the route the protesters would take. Chief Metzler said after seeing the proposed route the group came up with, he suggested changes for the safety of the group and the citizens. This was documented in emails provided by the chief.
“One map depicts the two state highways, Lombard St (Rt 47) & Oak St (Rt 150) in red,” the chief wrote to the organizer on July 6. “Involving those two streets would create significant safety concerns. These highways carry a heavy load of semi-truck traffic that cannot be re-routed through residential areas.”
The chief proposed a new route, which the organizer, Naomi DuPree, agreed to, telling the chief “that route works for me,” in a reply email. “I have no problem changing that around and reposting the information by tonight.”
Chief Metzler would not discuss the complaint, saying he had “no comment” to it, only providing statements related to specific allegations, including that he physically touched a protester.
“He leaned in and squared off with everyone he interacted with, using well-known intimidation tactics and non-verbal techniques that communicate his dominance and control,” Conerly wrote in her complaint. “He even went so far as to place his hands on at least one protester, physical contact that was completely unprovoked, unwanted, and uncalled for! Chief Metzler clearly engaged in escalation behaviors, and not the de-escalation techniques I'm sure he has been trained to use.”
When asked about these allegations, the chief said he “did not recall” touching anyone.
In videos provided to WAND News by Conerly and Matthews, members of the group can be heard yelling profanities at police during the march, and while Metzler stood in front of the group's vehicle. Matthew said she does not condone the actions of the group, but said she understands their frustrations. Matthews believes the goal of a peaceful protest by Paign to Peace and those who gathered is being overshadowed by what she saw the chief do.
"We need a police chief who is going to encourage positive change when it comes to discrimination and racism,” she said. "I just wish that the community would be open, and just maybe, just maybe accept that Chief Metzler acted inappropriately."
WAND news reached out to the village president, who said he was not aware of the complaint until the station made him aware of it. He said the village is looking into it and would not offer further comment. He did not respond to questions about whether the complaint would result in an investigation or not.