Group demands investigation; calls on Macomb Police Chief to step down

MACOMB, Ill. (NEWS3) — A McDonough County group is demanding an investigation into the Macomb Police Department and calling on the Chief to step down or be removed after an incident involving police issuing a train ticket to a mentally ill Macomb man.

The Democratic Women of McDonough County held a press conference Friday expressing their anger and outrage over what happened to 43-year-old Marshawn Walker who went missing but was eventually found safe in Chicago after reportedly receiving a train ticket from Macomb Police. His brother, Tamara Walker, was looking for him for nearly two weeks after he wasn’t at home.

President Heather McMeekan said, when Tamara noticed his brother was missing, he went straight to the police station to try to file a missing persons report. McMeekan said police refused to help Tamara, even though he was Marshawn’s legal guardian, claiming “since his brother was an adult, they couldn’t take a report.”

McMeekan said Tamara continued searching for his brother on his own without any help from police. After more days passed, the brother asked another officer to take a report, but he refused as well, according to McMeekan.

McMeekan said one police officer told Tamara with a witness nearby, that another officer had given Marshawn a one-way train ticket to Chicago. McMeekan said Tamara continued searching for his brother without any assistance or support from Macomb Police.

According to McMeekan, a few days later, the police officer changed his story by saying they had not given Marshawn a train ticket. Tamara grew more frantic and traumatized, according to McMeekan, so he received help from a mental health professional who went with him to the police station to finally file a report about his brother being missing and endangered.

McMeekan said Macomb Police finally filed a missing persons report approximately two weeks later, but did not mention Marshawn was missing in the report because police gave him a train ticket to Chicago.

McMeekan said Chicago Police eventually located Marshawn sitting on a stoop, with frostbitten feet, in the same clothes he had left Macomb in two weeks prior. McMeekan said the frustration grew even more for Tamara when he had to drive to Chicago to get his brother and bring him back to Macomb at his own expense with no assistance or apology from the Macomb Police Department, who McMeekan said, created the emergency in the first place through their own actions.

McMeekan calls the whole ordeal a common practice by Macomb Police to make unwanted and unwelcome people in the community go “missing by design” to “get rid of” them. McMeekan said, the practice encourages people to go wherever they want to go, to leave the community and not return.

McMeekan said she calls on Macomb Police Chief Curt Barker to step down or be removed, and an investigation of the Macomb Police Department to be launched by the McDonough County State’s Attorney’s Office. McMeekan said she also calls for an explanation, with a full apology, be read at a Macomb City Council meeting. McMeekan calls on the program to give one-way transit tickets be ended permanently.

McMeekan said police have changed their story multiple times saying a train ticket did exist for Marshawn, then saying it didn’t happen, with the department or Amtrak having no record of it. McMeekan said Macomb Police eventually said they found a receipt and claims they hand out one-way tickets to Chicago for black men who claim they don’t have housing.

Chief Barker said, on Dec. 11 just before 1 p.m., Marshawn came to the police station to speak to an officer. Barker said Marshawn told an officer he had got into an argument with his brother, Tamara, and that he no longer lived with his brother and needed homeless services.

Barker said the officer sent Marshawn to the local men’s homeless shelter Samaritan Well, but said there were no vacancies. Barker said that’s when the officer contacted four other shelters between Quincy and Galesburg, however, the officer said there were no vacancies.

Barker said after the officer told Marshawn there were no vacancies, he told the officer he could go to Chicago to “use the shelters up there” because he was “familiar with that” and “could find a place there.” Barker said the officer then responded, “I think we can do that.”

After that, Barker said, Marshawn was taken to the train station and the officer purchased him a ticket. Barker said there was no more contact with Marshawn after this point.

On Dec. 14, Barker said an officer happened to drive by where the brother, Tamara lives. Barker said that’s when Tamara flagged the officer down, saying “hey, my brother’s missing, I haven’t seen him since the eleventh.” Barker said that encounter was the first contact an officer had with the brother informing them of Marshawn’s disappearance.

The officer that came in contact with Tamara responded, “No, he’s not missing, we helped him get to a shelter in Chicago and gave him a train ticket,” according to Barker. Tamara responded back to the officer saying, “No, he can’t, I’m his guardian and I want to be able to report him missing.” Barker said the officer told Tamara to bring paperwork indicating guardianship to the police department to make a copy and fill out a missing persons form in order to put Marshawn into the Law Enforcement Agency Data System (LEADS). LEADS alerts any officer that a person is missing. Barker said all the department knew about is Marshawn living with his brother, but did not know if Tamara was officially his guardian until filling out the paperwork.

Barker said while Tamara was filling out a missing persons form on Dec. 14, the officer contacted Amtrak Police, saying “hey, did Marshawn ride the train.” Barker said Amtrak Police told the officer “no.” At that point, Barker said Tamara assumed Marshawn did not get on the train so he figured he was still in Macomb more than likely. Ultimately, Marshawn did use the train ticket on Dec. 11 after Macomb Police contacted Amtrak again days later to ask, although Barker said he’s unsure why Amtrak said Marshawn was not on the train during their first inquiry.

On Dec. 19, Barker said Tamara returned to the police station and asked what the status was of Marshawn because he hadn’t returned. Since the department was busy, an officer met Tamara back at his house. Tamara told the officer, “Hey, it’s been a few days, and I know he didn’t take his medicine, so I’m starting to get worried about him,” and he added, “I think another gentleman may have given him a ride to Chicago,” according to Barker.

Barker said the officer called that person and they said, “I just saw him at Ayerco here in town.” Barker said that’s when the department posted a picture to Facebook alerting the public about Marshawn missing on Dec 20., nearly a week after Tamara filed a missing persons report. Barker said the department believed Marshawn was still in Macomb because of the phone call with the person saying he was spotted at the Ayerco gas station.

On Dec. 21, Barker said the department received a call from the Chicago Police Department saying Marshawn was found in Chicago. Macomb Police then called Tamara, who drove to pick up Marshawn from Chicago and brought him back to Macomb, according to Barker.

On Dec. 22, Barker said Tamara contacted the department around 4:30 a.m. and said Marshawn was back in Macomb, so police removed him from the LEADS database and informed the public via Facebook of his safe return.

Barker said, Jan. 7, was the first time he had heard of a concern due to him being out of the office in the weeks prior. Barker said he questioned his officers on Jan. 7 and wanted to understand rumors of a mentally disabled man being put on a train and not wearing winter clothing. Barker said he asked the officer of Marshawn’s condition and whether he had winter clothing on. The officer responded, “That’s absolutely not the truth; he had on the carhartts, winter coat, and he was not in crisis while talking to him,” according to Barker.

Barker said the officer told him, “I tried the four different locations to get him shelter, including our shelter here, but no one would take him. He told me he could get a shelter in Chicago and he wanted a ticket, so I helped him get there.” Barker then asked the officer, “When you ran his information through the computer system, did it alert you that he has a mental condition?” The officer said “no,” then Barker asked if it said he had a guardian, the officer said “no.” Barker talked to the director of the dispatch center to ask if Marshawn could be added in the computer system indicating his disability, and the software company was eventually able to indicate his needs.

Barker said he had the officer go to Marshawn’s residence to help set him up in an emergency database system that indicates immediate family and guardians in case of an emergency.

“We don’t have a program where we put people on a train and get rid of them,” Barker said. “Our intent is to find them resources, and if we don’t have the resources in town to help them, and if that’s to Chicago, Quincy, with Amtrak being the easiest mode of transportation, of course that’s what we’re going to use; but it’s not something that’s done frequently,” Barker said. “It’s not just one-way tickets to Chicago, hoping the person never comes back; that’s not it. Our intent is to get them to where the resources are. How we can help these individuals is our goal; our goal is to help people. We don’t have a goal of pushing people away.”

The crisis intervention team is members of the community from the hospital, psychologists, mental health counselors, social agencies, and other emergency personnel.

Barker said Marshawn had insulated carhartt pants on with a winter coat on himself when the officer took him to the train station.

When NEWS3 asked Barker why the department did not ensure Marshawn got to his destination safely, Barker said the officer felt Marshawn was coherent and told the officer “when he got there, he would not have no problem getting to where he needs to be.” Barker said Marshawn didn’t ask the officer for any other service or that he needed money or additional help once he arrived in Chicago.

NEWS3 asked Barker if the department has had contact with Marshawn in the past, Barker said “the officer has seen Marshawn in crisis before, but the officer said Marshawn was in the best mental state he had ever seen him in. They were having a conversation, relaying everything back; he had no issues. The officer felt comfortable putting him on the train and sending him up there and felt he would make it to the shelter just fine.”

Barker said he doesn’t know where Marshawn ended up in Chicago, but “the reason why Chicago Police contacted us is because he had been disorderly.” Barker said Marshawn was not found on a stoop, “He was found due to a disorderly conduct complaint about someone yelling and that’s how they came in contact with him.”

Barker said, if the department knew Tamara was Marshawn’s guardian, they would have contacted him. Barker said he’s addressed the department about handling situations like this one in the future.

When NEWS3 asked Barker to respond to allegations of discrimination and prejudice within the department and the handling of this particular incident alleging police unfair treatment and misconduct of a mentally ill black man, Barker said, “Anytime anyone believes their being discriminated against, I ask them to fill out a complaint form so I can investigate,” Barker said. “I have no one coming in to fill out complaint forms for me to investigate. It would be investigated and not tolerated.”

Barker called the entire incident a misunderstanding, saying “it did not have to get this far, but there’s other people out there with political agendas that are making complaints with motives that are not true. I feel sorry that Tamara and Marshawn are getting pulled into that. If they would have brought their concerns to me, I would have been able to look into this sooner, instead of having to find out from other individuals that are people trying to do investigations without making it known what they were doing. If that wouldn’t have taken place, we could have got on to this sooner, and hopefully could have got to Marshawn sooner and talked with him and got him entered into the database a lot sooner. But I think we have a good solution to it now and we’re going to make an effort for everybody that we’re in contact with in our crisis intervention team to get entered into the database; I think that’s really important.”

“I wish they didn’t have to go through all of that. Let’s hope it never happens again,” Barker said. “I expect all of my officers to treat everyone like they would treat anyone of their own family. We treat everybody fair. I can guarantee you my officers are treating everyone fairly. This is a political thing on their part and they can play their political game. If they have a particular incident that they would like for us to investigate, please come forward and provide the names, don’t stand up and read an affidavit with no name on it and then expect us all to believe what you’re saying. Come forward, give us the names, and allow us to investigate those cases, and if there was any sort of discrimination, I promise you, we will get to the bottom of it.”

NEWS3 asked Barker if there is a policy or procedure when providing someone with a means to receive transportation or help, but Barker said there is not, other than showing a need and the department having a limited amount of money to use every year for this service.

McMeekan said she wants to know why the department didn’t issue a public apology, but Barker said an apology to the Walker’s from the department happened when officers went to help Marshawn get entered into the emergency database.

Macomb Police asks for any resident who is a caregiver for someone with a disability register their loved one into the database. It alerts authorities of emergency contacts if police were ever to come in contact with them.

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