Michael Reichert and the Road Pirates of Collinsville, Illinois
by William Norman Grigg
Michael Reichert is a professional liar and, therefore, a decorated police officer with the Collinsville, Illinois Police Department. Thanks to a video of a recent deposition, Reichert may become Collinsville’s unofficial goodwill ambassador, and the city government is understandably unhappy about that prospect.
On December 4 of last year, Reichert conducted a pretext stop of a vehicle driven by Ohio native Terrance Huff, who – along with a friend named Jon Seaton – was returning from a Star Trek convention. As is his habit, Reichert was lurking along the interstate in search of late-model cars with out-of-state license plates.
After inventing a reason to stop Huff, Reichert carried out a long-practiced routine intended to confect “probable cause” to search the vehicle in the hope of finding contraband or cash.
Reichert’s preferred interrogation tactic is to employ a series of “rolling no” questions. After asking about drugs, weapons or cash, and receiving negative answers, he will then ask for permission to conduct a “quick search” of the vehicle. The idea is either to trick the intimidated driver into consenting to a search by saying “no” as a matter of momentum – or to treat a positive refusal to search as evidence of “evasiveness” and, therefore, probable cause.
This routine was described by Federal Judge Michael J. Reagan in a 2005 ruling that described the officer as a “polished performer” and revealed him to be someone from whom lies flow as easily as bile from a ruptured liver.
“By simply adding up `suspicious’ factors while ignoring non-suspicious or mitigating factors [in the Zambrana traffic stop], Reichert misused the `totality of circumstances’ principle as a sword to unjustly pierce Zambrana’s cloak of Fourth Amendment protection,” concluded Judge Reagan.
In that earlier case, Reichert had taken note of a rental car with out-of-state plates that supposedly “crossed the white divider line.” He then pulled behind the driver and found it suspicious that the driver “continued down the highway in a completely normal manner” despite the fact that he was being followed by a cop. It was the devious act of driving casually that prompted Reichert to pull over the driver and begin the “rolling no” routine. The driver, who was being detained at gunpoint by an armed stranger, understandably became uneasy – and this was also described as buttressing the case for a search with a drug-sniffing dog.
Judge Reagan, unlike many in his profession, was willing to acknowledge what Reichert was doing, and he wasn’t amused. Reichert, motivated by the prospect of seizing contraband, cash, and property, was “simply adding up `suspicious’ factors while ignoring non-suspicious or mitigating factors” in the hope of meeting the “totality of circumstances” test for a warrantless search. Thanks to Reichert’s “ever-evolving matrix of suspicion,” it is possible to invent “probable cause” for a search in every traffic stop.
The December 4, 2011 involving Terrance Huff was a faithful application of the tactics denounced by Judge Reagan in the 2005 case. Huff was stopped for a non-existent traffic infraction. He was subjected to the “rolling no” routine. When he balked over a search and asked if he could go, Huff was told that his passenger looked "nervous" -- a lie, naturally -- and that this supposedly gave Reichert reasonable suspicion that a search would be justified. Huff was also told that his car would have to be impounded if he didn’t consent, and that he would be given a “ride” by the officer (which would have meant putting him under arrest).
Although Huff never gave positive consent, Reichert simply declared, "I am going to search your car." Reichert first did an external sweep using his drug-sniffing dog, Macho – with the officer clearly and obviously doing his best to prompt the dog to “alert” for narcotics. That, in turn, gave Reichert an excuse to search the interior of the SUV.
After finding nothing, Reichert claimed that there was marijuana “shake” – or residue – in the interior, which was yet another lie. Remember this fact; we’ll come back to it shortly.
There was nothing novel about the treatment Huff experienced: The Collinsville PD conducts dozens of identical stops each week, and roughly half of its operating budget comes from seizures of cash and property through civil asset forfeiture.
Despite – or perhaps owing to -- the fact that Reichert was fired twice after being put on the so-called Brady List (a roster of police officers whose documented dishonesty disqualifies them from testifying in court) he is in charge of instructing other Collinsville officers in the dark arts of manufacturing “probable cause” for vehicle searches.
This makes a certain cynical sense when it’s understood that the Collinsville PD is engaged in a cut-throat competition with road pirates in the employ of other local police agencies.
The stretch of freeway patrolled by Reichert falls under the jurisdiction of four law enforcement agencies – the city police, the municipal police from nearby St. Claire, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, and the Illinois Highway Patrol. This makes it a highly coveted territory for predatory police officers hungry for a slice of the asset forfeiture plunder.
In January 2011, Reichert was given a commendation by Collinsville Police Chief Scott Williams. In April, Reichert was named “Officer of the Month.” This was a reward for what was described as exemplifying “the proactive and innovative philosophy of law enforcement prescribed to [sic] by the Collinsville Police Department. He has demonstrated this by his aggressive approach to drug trafficking in the area.”
“Officer Reichert had 166 total incidents with 6 arrests and 7 citations in 13 working days,” explained the department’s report. “In addition to this he had 3 self initiated significant incidents that is very worthy of praise [sic.]”
Once again: Remember the phrase “self-initiated significant incidents”; we’ll return to it anon.
The traffic stop involving Terrance Huff was entirely typical, except for the identity of the victim: Huff is a documentary filmmaker, and thus had the means to fight back. “Breakfast in Collinsville,” the short film Huff produced using dashcam footage from Reichert’s police car exposed the officer’s practiced, award-winning dishonesty to the world.
On December 4 -- his birthday, as it happens -- Huff released a follow-up entitled “Lodging in Collinsville” that has earned itself a place on what could be called the “Wrath of Khan” list – that is, the small and exclusive roster of sequels that improved upon their predecessors. The second film includes footage of a recent deposition in which Reichert admits to planting narcotics evidence on vehicles as a “training” exercise.
Under questioning by attorney Louis Meyer, who is representing Huff in a lawsuit against the City of Collinsville, Reichert describes how he would visit parking lots and train drug-sniffing dogs by “taking … weed and wiping it on the door.” This leaves a “residue” of marijuana that can be detected up to an hour later. This “training” technique would be applied using “big trucks, U-Haul trucks, 18-wheelers, and so forth,” Reichert related.
Asked if he would get permission from vehicle owners before tainting their property with drug residue, the squirmy, sheepish officer replied that he would do so “sometimes.” In other words, he tacitly admitted that he sometimes or often does so without either asking the owners or informing them of what had been done to their vehicles.
Recall now that Reichert claimed to have found marijuana “shake” in Huff’s vehicle. That is almost certainly not the first time he has made such a claim – which is probably true in those instances involving vehicles he had previously tainted during “training” exercises.
In his deposition Reichert disclosed that he will visit motels near the expressway and ask staff if they have seen “suspicious” people with out-of-state license plates who have paid for their rooms in cash. He also admitted that he has used vehicles in motel parking lots in “residue training” exercises.
This is how a “self-initiated significant incident” can be easily created: Reichert visits a motel parking lot, prompts a member of the productive class to say that there are “suspicious” people lodging therein, then he goes into the parking lot and plants drug “evidence” that is later used as “probable cause” for a traffic stop.
Not surprisingly, Huff ends his video with a warning that out-of-state motorists should avoid spending the night in any of the motels found off the Bluff Road exit in Collinsville.
The reaction of the Collinsville City government was entirely predictable: Rather than demanding that Reichert and his comrades in the police department desist from their criminal behavior, they are demanding that Huff take down his video.
“I just got an e-mail from the city attorney asking to have the [Lodging in Collinsville] video taken down by the end of the day,” attorney Louis Meyer informed Pro Libertate in a December 4 phone interview. “He didn’t explain why he thought Mr. Huff had to do this. It is a publicly available document attached to our motion for summary judgment. There was nothing placed under seal, and all of this information – including the video of the deposition – was available to anybody willing to go into the clerk’s office and ask for it.”
On December 3, Collinsville city attorney Steven Giacoletto filed a motion for summary judgment invoking the familiar, and entirely specious, claim of “qualified immunity." He also filed a motion to discontinue discovery until after U.S. District Judge Reagan -- yes, the same judge that lambasted Reichert in 2005 -- rules on the summary judgement motion. For Reichert and the corrupt municipal clique that employs him, the highest priority is to prevent any further exposure of their feculent little forfeiture racket.
In their response, Huff's attorneys pointed out that "Summary judgment is only appropriate where material facts are undisputed" -- which is emphatically not the case here. Huff does not concede that he committed a traffic violation, and Reichert has never provided evidence that he did. Huff repeatedly refused consent to search the vehicle, until Reichert offered a tacit but unmistakable threat to seize the car and arrest its owner.
After Reichert finally browbeat the innocent driver into permitting an exterior search with the drug-sniffing dog, the officer manipulated the canine into providing a false "alert": "While Reichert walked his canine around the vehicle, he gave the canine cues. The canine did not make a positive alert on Plaintiff's vehicle. With proper discovery, [Huff] will be able to prove that the alleged alert was false or even worse, fabricated. The alert was belied by the fact that there was no contraband in [the] vehicle."
"Proper discovery" is precisely what Reichert and his keepers are desperately seeking to avoid by playing the "qualified immunity" card.
“Every time there’s an episode of police misconduct, `qualified immunity’ is the defense of first recourse,” Meyer points out. “It is determined on a case-by-case, fact-specific basis, and the benefit of the doubt is given when an officer is dealing with a murky legal situation and makes an honest error of judgment. That doesn’t apply in this case. Reichert has a documented history of dishonesty. He fabricated the excuse for the traffic stop, detained Huff and his passenger for longer than necessary, and misrepresented the findings of the drug-sniffing dog to conduct an illegal search.”
Attorney Dan Kiss, who is Meyer’s partner in a Chicago-based civil rights litigation firm, told Pro Libertate that Huff’s video – and the ensuing publicity – has caused many other victims to seek legal redress.
“The officers involved in this enterprise aren’t out there saving crime victims,” Kiss observes. This isn’t about law enforcement. It’s about making money. And Collinsville isn’t unique. It’s pretty typical of small towns near interstates where people driving vehicles with out-of-state license plates are fair game for pirates in police uniforms.”
William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
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