Illini basketball

Jaylon Tate’s unfortunate lesson: Do NOT cooperate with police

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.



Illini basketball

Subpoenas returned, evidence erased – The Jaylon Tate Saga

In the previous installment of The Jaylon Tate Saga, you learned that Champaign County Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Hall subpoenaed PRO Ambulance for information about their treatment and transport of Hailey Pieruccini, in the wee small hours of March 12.


Hall received written records from PRO Ambulance, but not video.  Those documents were shared with Tate’s defense team this week. They contain no new information.


In April, Evan Bruno subpoenaed both Pieruccini and André Lee for all communications exchanged between them during the month of March.  Lee deleted his text messages with Pieruccini for the entire month of March. Pieruccini deleted her text messages with Lee from the morning of March 11 onward. The surviving text messages between Pieruccini and Lee come from Pieruccini ‘s phone, with the latest being from the morning of March 11. Lee signed an affidavit stating that he was no longer in possession of any of the requested communications between himself and Pieruccini.

On the night of March 11, softball teammate Carly Thomas refused to allow Pieruccini to drink while Pieruccini was in Thomas’s apartment, not because Pieruccini is underage, but because Pieruccini was already intoxicated.  Pieruccini  split away from her teammates after that. Jade Vecvanags spent most of the day with Pieruccini, but followed through on their plan to attend a party at the football house (across the street from the Beer Barn and down the block from West Quad). Pieruccini instead veered toward West Quad.  Danielle Trezzo accompanied her there, but then departed without her.


Both the football house and West Quad are frequent gathering places for UIUC student-athletes.


Witnesses attending the party at the West Quad apartment shared by Tate and Tracy Abrams described Pieruccini  as “belligerently drunk.”  Conversely, Pieruccini reportedly walked upstairs to Tate’s bedroom, and reclined on his bed until her friends rousted her. Tate remained downstairs among the party’s attendees. After about half an hour, Abrams asked Pieruccini to leave.


Video surveillance footage, already admitted into evidence, shows Pieruccini leaving West Quad alone.


At some point after leaving Tate and Abrams’s apartment, Pieruccini suffered injuries to her face. Did she trip and fall down? Did she stumble into a tree? Did someone punch her?


You can see why Pieruccini would be embarrassed. She’d already been abandoned by her friends, kicked out of one party and refused alcohol at another. If she had stumbled into a tree, would she risk further social ostracization by admitting as much to her peers?


Instead, she attributes her injuries to an unnamed male figure. She doesn’t name person x.  She refuses to cooperate with police. When they arrest Jaylon Tate, she emails Tom Bruno to admit she’s responsible for her injuries.


The state has a single witness, Kate Giddens, who will be able to testify that Pieruccini used the words “Jaylon Tate” to characterize the cause of her injuries. Giddens said Pieruccini claimed she was punched three times, and indicated three spots on her face. Pieruccini  told PRO Ambulance that “he” (unnamed person x) hit her once.


If the state continues to trial, it’s easy to see at least three credible alternative theories to explain Pieruccini’s injuries. What’s difficult to see is how, when or where Jaylon Tate had the opportunity to punch her.
Illini basketball

Ruling is good news for Jaylon Tate

On Friday, Champaign County Judge John Kennedy allowed the prosecution’s motion in limine admitting hearsay testimony from Illini wrestler André Lee and softball player Kate Giddens, and denied the state’s motion to admit hearsay from Hailey Pieruccini’s roommate Nicole Evans.
That’s good news for Jaylon Tate because it means his case will go to trial. Only a trial can legally vindicate Tate. Had the motions been denied in full, the case would likely be dismissed for lack of evidence. A dismissal doesn’t say “not guilty” the way a verdict does.
The hearsay testimony, when and if provided by Lee and Giddens, must match the state’s profer (description & characterization of their words)  to be deemed admissible under Friday’s ruling.
Lee would be well-advised against testifying, to avoid opening himself to cross-examination.  Team Bruno will almost certainly seek to explore the theory that Lee punched Pieruccini. Lee’s own testimony demonstrates that he was alone with the victim between the time she was last seen uninjured and the time she arrived at her apartment, battered. Furthermore, it seems that Lee is already uncooperative. A brief bit of dialog between Kennedy and attorney Evan Bruno suggested that Lee’s phone is no longer expected to be introduced as a defense exhibit, or as one person phrased it “André’s phone has magically become unavailable.”
The implication is that Bruno would use data from Lee’s phone to show that Lee and Pieruccini are involved in a relationship. Bruno would likely suggest that Lee was angry with Pieruccini for attending a party at Tate’s apartment.
Judge Kennedy grilled Champaign County assistant state’s attorney Stephanie Hall about the profer regarding Lee’s testimony. Hall sought to introduce a line in which Lee says Pieruccini told him, over the phone & presumably while walking toward his apartment, that her boyfriend had punched her. Kennedy was adamant that Lee could not, as a matter of law more so than a matter of fact, know who was being characterized by that statement.
Hall did not describe Tate as the victim’s “boyfriend’ but instead said that the two had had a “sexual relationship,” popularly known as a Friends with Benefits situation.

Hall cited People v. Enoch [545 N.E.2d 429 (1989)] and People v. House [566 N.E.2d 259 (1990)] as precedents favoring the introduction of “excited utterance” hearsay in Illinois.

The state needs this hearsay evidence because it doesn’t have any other evidence which would indicate that Jaylon Tate punched Hailey Pieruccini. Bruno pointed out that Pieruccini has not vacillated from her account of events, which is that Jaylon Tate did not hit her.

Bruno offered for submission into evidence a surveillance video showing the sidewalk & street outside West Quad, Tate’s apartment building.  Hall objected and was overruled,  Kennedy finding that Bruno’s offer of the video was relevant to the state’s motion in limine. Kennedy then left the bench to sit in front of a big screen TV, and watch the video via Windows Media Player. After admitting it into evidence, Kennedy asked whether Bruno had a DVD copy of the video. Bruno said he had the video on a flash drive, which he then held in the air. Kennedy asked whether he should know what a flash drive is. Bruno replied that he would make a DVD for the court. Sotto voce chuckling briefly ensued.

Much of the audience got up from the gallery, and walked the five or six paces to the right side of the room, to better see the big screen. Not much happened in the video, but Kennedy asked Bruno to pause it twice. At the first pause Kennedy asked if it were the defense’s contention that a particular figure seen in the video was Pieruccini. Bruno affirmed. Kennedy asked Hall whether the people disagreed with that contention. Hall said no.

That means the video evidence is in, establishing that Pieruccini left West Quad at 11:24 p.m. That’s more than half an hour before any other events in the case.

Kennedy also accepted Bruno’s profer of six affidavits from witnesses who will testify that they were in Jaylon Tate’s presence throughout the evening, and that all six witnessed no violence at any time. One of those witnesses, Brandon Edwards, attended the proceeding with the Tate family. Edwards was the person sitting closest to the door of Tate’s apartment when a drunk Pieruccini departed, according  to his testimony, unscathed.

Kennedy adjourned the hearings with the announcement that the trial date in People v Jaylon Tate is set for June 7.  Bruno, Tate, Tate’s mother Arisa Johnson, grandmother Bonnie Johnson, uncle Steven Johnson, sister Joryin and Edwards then convened in the front hall of the Champaign County Courthouse, and addressed the media.