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Springfield Police Department releases report on former officer

Springfield police

Aaron Nichols, who resigned from the Springfield Police Department this spring, won’t be charged with misconduct. That was announced Wednesday as the department released findings of its months-long review.

Nichols left the force after social media posts surfaced and the department began to investigate.

The material released this week includes a review of Nichols’ work history, department polices and potential training that could be prove beneficial. But that is apparently where it will end.

“My office has determined there is insufficient evidence to prove a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt or to conclude that Nichols committed official misconduct in the course of his official duties. Accordingly, the Sangamon County State’s Attorney won’t be filing charges at this time,” Wright said.

A social media post from Black Lives Matter Springfield said its team is "currently reviewing" the report.

At the recommendation of the Springfield NAACP, Wright said he enlisted the help of Sylvester Bush, a former Police Chief for the Peoria Park District and Cook County Forest Preserve, to independently analyze his office’s handling of the case.

SPD divisions including Internal Affairs, Training, Planning and Research, Records, Criminal Investigations and Legal headed the probe into Nichols.

They discovered a group titled the “Anonymous Comrades Collective” conducted their own investigation into racist and discriminatory Twitter posts from multiple Twitter handles.

The report said the group traced the various handles back to Nichols. A blog post was published April 1, which started the SPD response.

“Within 3 hours of learning about these posts, Nichols was ordered to the Chief’s office as part of informal inquiry about the article…. With union representation present, Nichols was questioned as to whether the handles were associated with his Twitter account. After an initial indication that he had no Twitter account, he eventually confirmed that over the course of the last few years he utilized all eight of the Twitter handles. This concluded the informal inquiry.”

Police said Nichols, an 18 year SPD veteran, was immediately given notice of a formal internal affairs investigation and was placed on administrative leave without pay, including the immediate revocation of his police powers. He resigned on April 5.

Scarlette has recommended to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board that Nichols should no longer be allowed to serve as a police officer.

The review looked at Nichols’ City of Springfield email account. Messages containing various racial, ethnic and homophobic slurs were found.

Investigators also combed through traffic stop data involving Nichols and provided the following breakdown:

Traffic stop data from 2012-2022 / 512 total stops

  •  70% white, 6% of which were ticketed
  •  28% black, 11% of which were ticketed
  •  1% Latino, 14% of which were ticketed
  •  1% Asian, 14% of which were ticketed

     Traffic Stop data from 2018 – 2022 / 129 total stops

  • 79% white, 14% of which were ticketed
  • 19% black, 4% of which were ticketed
  • 2% Latino, 0% were ticketed

The review found “no obvious biased based patterns were identified based on the above sample size.”

Also, body worn camera videos totaling more than 132 hours were examined.

“The Planning and Research section identified 339 BWC videos that remained and were tagged with indefinite status. Internal Affairs Lieutenants meticulously began the review of every video with 6 the goal of observing his interaction with the citizens he came into contact with while performing his official duties to determine any observable bias,” the report said.

“All interactions between Nichols and the public, regardless of race, gender, or status appear to be professional. At no time did he display, exhibit, or perform his duties in any manner that would be defined as consistent with the Twitter posts.”

Springfield Police said after consultation with the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, the department implemented three distinct questions into the background interview process for all prospective SPD hires.

1. Have you ever belonged to, financially supported, or received monetary funds from any private persons, groups, movements, organizations, or associations, private or not, that hold the belief or support writings of racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual orientation inferiority? Yes/No, If yes, please explain.

2. Have you ever helped distribute, teach, or recruit with or buy and/or distribute merchandise for or from any private persons, groups, movements, organizations, or associations that hold the belief through bylaws, activities, meetings, writing, social media platforms, online websites or teaching, online or in person anywhere, that accept or support the belief of racial, ethnic religious or sexual orientation inferiority? Yes/No, If yes, please explain.

3. Have you ever attended any events, marches, or meetings held by private persons, groups, organizations, or associations that are of the belief or support any racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual orientation as inferior? Yes/No, If yes, please explain.

SPD senior staff identified training that was administered across the department in September dealing with implicit bias.

Senior staff also attended a workshop dealing with extremism. Additional training next year will focus on promoting respectful interactions between officers and the community, with the goals of enhancing police legitimacy and building community trust.

The department has also reached out to various groups to listen and receive feedback. Those include:

  • NAACP
  • Jewish Federation of Springfield
  • Faith Coalition for the Common Good
  • Black Lives Matter – Springfield
  • Resistor Sisterhood
  • Ministerial Alliance of Springfield and Vicinity
  • Springfield Urban League
  • Community Health Roundtable
  • Phoenix Center

Police also indicated efforts to improve community engagement.
“In summary, the actions of former officer Aaron Nichols must not ever be repeated in the storied future of the SPD. However, this unconscionable display of discrimination cannot be filed away. Rather it will represent a wound that has been treated properly with discipline, transparency, training, community support, conversations, and forgiveness,” Scarlette wrote. “This wound will eventually scar. It will be this scar that propels our agency forward, offering a visible awareness of a brief valley, but also the difficult road our agency embarked upon to heal and recover. All of this can only be possible with the support of the citizens of this great community.”

“Utilizing a partial quote from the great president Abraham Lincoln, “with malice toward none, with charity for all…..” this agency strives to be better together alongside the citizens of Springfield.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and covering the equity beat. Maureen joined the Illinois Issues in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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