Updated: Champaign officer from Fisher charged after series of vehicle burglaries

By MARY SCHENK
and ADALBERTO TOLEDO
For Rantoul Press


FISHER — In an everyone-knows-everyone town of a little less than 2,000, residents were reeling Tuesday from the news that one of their own — a Champaign police officer — was said to be responsible for a rash of burglaries early Sunday morning in Fisher.

“It’s scary,” said Brandon Woodcock of Fisher. “When you can’t trust a cop, who can you trust?”

As residents expressed emotions that ranged from astonishment to anger just after the lunch hour Tuesday,

Justus Clinton, 43, of Fisher was being prepared for arraignment 22 miles away in Urbana. He stands accused of stealing from three unlocked pickup trucks in the early-morning hours of Mother’s Day, and authorities say there is surveillance video to support the charges.

Soon after the news of Clinton’s arrest was made public Tuesday morning, the police department released a statement saying that Clinton, a 14-year officer, had signed a “separation and release agreement” on May 8 in lieu of being fired.

Clinton, honored in 2011 as Champaign’s police officer of the year, had been put on leave March 13, weeks before the alleged burglaries happened.

“At the moment, he is on administrative leave and will no longer be an officer for the city of Champaign as of May 21,” said Jason Hood, human resources director.

Hood and the police department declined to say the reason for Clinton’s leave, but Champaign attorney Jamie Propps said in court, during her bond argument, that her client had been attending a substance abuse treatment program.

Propps entered not guilty pleas for Clinton, who waived his right to a probable cause hearing and was told to be back in court July 3. Judge John Kennedy set bond at $10,000.

Champaign County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Allen Jones said Clinton was arrested Monday for allegedly entering “at least 10 cars” between 1 and 6:30 a.m. Sunday at seven residences in Fisher.

The vehicle burglaries, including one inside a garage attached to a home, were reported to Fisher police starting Sunday.

Jones said Fisher police began the investigation, then asked the sheriff’s office for help.

A homeowner had given police surveillance video identifying Clinton as the person trying to get in a vehicle.

Based on that information, investigators got a search warrant for Clinton’s home and served it Monday.

“Evidence of the burglaries was recovered, and an arrest made,” Jones said.

Among the items police recovered were debit and credit cards, electronics, purses and change, Jones said.

Jones said Clinton cooperated with investigators Monday, but he did not know if Clinton made any formal statement.

“This was certainly a very troubling set of circumstances,” Jones said.

If convicted of the Class 3 felony charges, Clinton faces penalties ranging from probation to three to five years in prison.

Dressed in shorts and a black T-shirt, Clinton was brought to the courthouse from the satellite jail in east Urbana for arraignment after the sound failed on a video connection to the courtroom. Kennedy said there had been a brief power glitch prior to the hearing.

Back in Fisher, Tina Shoemaker, a cashier at Casey’s, remembered Clinton as a regular customer and all-around “good guy.”

“I had a lot of respect for him,” she said. “But he gives cops a bad name. You’d expect it from a kid, but not an adult. I mean, that makes it pathetic.”

The Sunday burglaries and Monday arrest dominated the discussion at Casey’s on Tuesday, with customer Shawn Dockman offering: “There’s a bad apple in every bunch.”

“Bad apple?” chimed in Ed Cooper, owner of Fisher’s H.A. Stuehm Co. “He’s a pretty bad apple, and there’s quite a few police like that.

“But maybe it’s just one bad guy in the bunch.”

Staff writer Debra Pressey contributed to this report.

mschenk@news-gazette.com
atoledo@news-gazette.com

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