A consulting firm whose founders include former Chicago police chief Terry Hillard is beginning an investigation into the the Urbana police arrest of Aleyah Lewis.
Mayor Diane Marlin says she has signed a contract with security risk management firm Hillard Heintze to investigate both the April 10th arrest, and Urbana police operations and policies relevant to the case. The firm is expected to submit its findings by the end of July.
Marlin told the Urbana City Council last week the investigation would seek out community input on how Urbana residents want police to handle such cases.
“And that was one of the key criteria that I had when we were identifying the firm, was a firm that had the bandwidth to do the interview with community members and council members,” said Marlin.
Community members have been speaking at Urbana City Council meetings about the arrest since the week after it occurred. They have been spurred on by two bystander videos of the arrest which have circulated on social media.
Lewis was arrested during a shooting investigation in which a companion, 19-year-old Kamarion Busby was arrested on a weapons charge. While Busby submitted to arrest peacefully, police wrestled with Lewis to handcuff her and get her into a police car, after she walked away from the officers.
NAACP Champaign County chapter president Minnie Pearson is among those who criticized the arrest and called for an investigation. In a May 6 op-ed piece in the News-Gazette, she said the videos of the arrest showed an officer “using excessive force to arrest a female who was clearly impaired in some manner,” and would have likely been treated differently if she had been white.
Pearson said gathering input from the community, including the NAACP, would be an important part of the investigation by Hillard Heintze.
“I’m sure the firm, being a reputable firm, will take community concerns and comments, and give the community a chance to answer questions and be interviewed before they do anything final, period,” said Pearson.
Marlin announced plans for an outside investigation, after Urbana police chief Bryant Seraphin and Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz both defended the arrest as legal and in line with police department policy, at an April 27 city council meeting.
Since then, the Lewis arrest has attracted even more attention, in local protests held following the May 25 Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
In a special Urbana City Council meeting held last week to examine police issues, the Aleyah Lewis arrest was referenced eight times in a list of concerns compiled by the conveners.