The Champaign Police Department denied my original FOIA demand for their official Jaylon Tate arrest report on the grounds that the case was ongoing. Thus my initial reporting on People v. Jaylon Tate relied on the willing participation of sources with information. To the best of my, and their, ability; we reported the facts as knew them.
Now that the case is resolved, that police report enters the public domain. It will be all over the interwebs. People will debate its findings. I hope they conclude, as I did, that Jaylon Tate was not in a position, time and place, to batter Hailey Pieruccini.
From the very first moment, I had a hunch that Jaylon Tate didn’t hit anybody. He’s just too amiable.
When Kendrick Nunn was arrested days later, I didn’t feel the same astonishment. We all know that KNunn plays with a chip on his shoulder.
But JTate? He’s everybody’s friend.
It’s that amiable nature that got him arrested.
Tate was in southwest Champaign, and presumably in for the night, when alerted by friends to the police investigation of Hailey Pieruccini’s injuries. He could have turned off his phone and ignored this information.
Instead, Tate made his way back to Campustown, and approached the squad car parked outside West Quad. He told Champaign police officers Justin Prosser and Kevin Olmstead that he didn’t know exactly what they were investigating, but that he’d been told that Pieruccini had been battered.
Olmstead asked Tate if he had a cell phone, and whether he (Olmstead) could see it. Tate complied, and the officers confiscated his phone. (His family had to buy him another one, compounding the thousands of dollars paid by Tate’s family because Jaylon cooperated with police.)
Olmstead found texts to/from Pieruccini earlier that night. The conversation was incomplete, as Olmstead correctly observed. It began midstream with Hailey saying the police wouldn’t listen to her, Tate asking why she’s lying about him, and a series of texts from Hailey saying she didn’t lie, that she doesn’t know what else to tell the police to convince them, asking why Tate won’t answer her, promising that Tate shouldn’t worry because he didn’t do anything wrong, and ending with another iteration of “they won’t listen to me.”
“They” is mostly officer William Cowan, who spoke at length with Pieruccini as she held an ice pack to her face, lying on her own bed in her apartment off Scott Park, an eight minute walk from West Quad.
She tells Cowan that Tate did not hit her. She continually demurs from attempts by Cowan to incriminate Tate. Likewise, she demurs from Cowan’s repeated insistence that she accept medical assistance. She does, according to Cowan, say that she and Tate argued that night.
Every officer involved in the investigation questions Tate/Pieruccini friends (not necessarily witnesses) about the concept of a “dating relationship” and the “exclusivity” of any ostensible “relationship” between Tate and Pieruccini. These terms are important to the officers because they need to establish a “dating relationship” to arrest Tate without a warrant. Any offense other than domestic battery and Tate could bond out before seeing a judge. To keep him for more than an hour or so, they must charge this particular offense.
The answers police receive are consistent. Nobody regards Tate and Pieruccini as boyfriend and girlfriend. Some speculate that they have some kind of non-exclusive relationship. Crucially, Tate offers the information that he and Pieruccini have, on occasion, done the deed — but not since late February.
Given these answers, and the texts flowing between the accused and the purported victim, it’s understandable that Champaign police chose to arrest Tate. They’d established that there was some sort of connection between the two, that Tate was upset with Pieruccini, and that Pieruccini had been injured. In a classic example of domestic violence policing, Champaign police decided to lock Tate away for the night.
Ethically, morally, legally, the police are on firm ground here. What’s sketchier is what happens toward the end of the conversation between Cowan and Pieruccini. He continues to pressure her to accept medical treatment. She expresses concern about her family’s financial situation, and the exorbitant expense of an ambulance bill.
Cowan regards Pieruccini as conscious and alert (albeit intoxicated) and describes her injuries as a busted/swollen lip and swelling on the left side of her face. Perhaps he was concerned for her overall health, and worried more than she about superficial scrapes. Subsequent events suggest a different motive.
At some point during the interrogation, first-year softball coach Tyra Perry arrives at the apartment. She convinces Pieruccini to accept medical attention. PRO Ambulance is dispatched.
When PRO Ambulance EMTs arrive, Cowan and Olmstead (who arrived after Cowan, but before assisting Prosser in interrogating Tate) position themselves just outside Pieruccini’s door, and eavesdrop on her consultation.
Police, as an institution, are aware that injured persons are more likely to share information with medical personnel than police. Some people don’t trust police. Some people don’t like police. But all people, as a rule, want their doctors to know what’s wrong with them.
It’s this reasoning that informs Federal and Illinois case law, which have specific rulings about victim statements to medical personnel, and their admissibility in court proceedings. If Pieruccini had uttered the name “Jaylon Tate” to those EMTs, it would not have been admissible as evidence. She didn’t. She said “he” hit her. No name.
Pieruccini never wanted to talk to police, but what could she do? Her roommate, Nicole Evans, invited them into their home.
Upon her release from Carle Hospital, Cowan returns to Pieruccini’s apartment to have her sign a Consent to Release Medical Records and Information form. She gets the “Hailey” part in legible script, but the “Pieruccini” part is indecipherable. Similarly, her hand-written birth date drifts downward, below the signature line. She dates the document with a 7 in the month spot, before writing a 3 over it. It’s after 5 a.m. at this point, and she’s still drunk.
Nicole Evans is not to blame. She was looking out for a friend. Hailey Pieruccini is not to blame. Most 19 year-olds discover, at some point, that excessive alcohol consumption produces bad outcomes. It’s a lesson people will only need to learn once, if they’re fortunate.
Tyra Perry is somewhat to blame. Was she covering her ass? Was she concerned with Pieruccini’s health? Was she the atypical black woman who doesn’t recognize that police aren’t always looking out for the best interests of citizens? Why did she not drive Pieruccini to the hospital herself?
I reached out to Coach Perry, to see if she cared to clarify her purposes. I’ll update this paragraph if I get a response.
Given the multitude of rules, requirements and expectations piled upon NCAA coaches, I can ‘t fault Perry’s actions. She certainly didn’t make the worst decision of the night. But in the end, Tim Beckman’s inglorious tenure ensured her unfounded insistence that Pieruccini needed professional medical oversight.
I emailed Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz for comment on the dismissal of People v. Tate, and particularly for clarification on her statement regarding the dismissal, which Tate’s attorney (and I) regarded as a tacit suggestion that Tate was guilty.
In response to my query, she dialed back that tone:
Haley had injuries to her face consistent with being punched. We believe she made the statements to her friends that they reported to the police. We cannot prove who caused those injuries in a court of law. I do not know who punched her.
Rietz won her position after predecessor John Piland failed to prosecute Luther Head et al for burglary. The victim was not cooperative in that case, too, but for different reasons.
Pretty much everyone involved in this case is a victim. Jaylon Tate and Hailey Pieruccini got their reputations sullied and their families in debt. The State’s Attorney’s office generated consternation for its handling of the case
The Champaign Police will forever be questioned for their motives, and for not investigating any other suspects (whether that’s fair or not). And by arresting and detaining a cooperative individual, they’ve reinforced a terrible lesson: Cooperating with police is bad for you.