DOC struggles to defend handling of DUI case
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Department of Corrections officials are struggling to explain whether they followed proper procedures after the drunken driving arrest of a prison officer who is the son of the agency’s chief investigator.
Jeffrey Beck allegedly had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit Feb. 27 when the pickup he was driving east of Springfield left the road and smashed through two walls of a home, hurling the occupant and his easy chair into the next room. The homeowner was not seriously injured.
Beck was reportedly treated for a head injury.
The 27-year-old Beck, a prison guard at Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro, is the son of Larry Beck, DOC’s chief of investigations and intelligence, who oversees everything from probes of employee misconduct to suppression of inmate gang activity.
Jeffrey Beck has pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of 0.257.
His next court appearance is Monday.
Inquiries by The Associated Press have raised questions about how Corrections treated the incident.
Investigators have not opened an internal review to determine whether discipline might eventually be warranted. And Larry Beck did not notify his boss that he had a conflict of interest as manager of prison investigators, as state administrative rules require.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press in August, the agency initially found no copy of an incident report the younger Beck was required to file. But 2½ months later, it provided the AP with the report, although it omits required information and purportedly was submitted by Beck just hours after he was treated in a hospital emergency room. It wasn’t signed by his superior until three days later.
Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano said the episode has been handled no differently than any other like it, and that Beck got no preferential treatment because of who he is.
“Appropriate department procedures have been, and will continue to be followed in this matter,” Solano said. “Jeffrey Beck has not and will not receive any special treatment, nor will any other individual.”
But others say details of the DOC handling of the case need closer examination. Sen. Kirk Dillard, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, told the AP he was troubled by the possibility that the incident was not properly reported. He said he wants the state’s Executive Inspector General “to immediately intervene and find out if there’s a cover-up.”
“If it’s an investigator and it involves their child, it should be immediately handed over to a neutral party for investigation. That should be done instantly,” said Dillard, of Hinsdale, who pushed legislation to inform the public about inmate discharges after an early-release scandal in 2009. “This is a law enforcement agency and it’s had a history of credibility issues with the public and the General Assembly, so it should be extra, extra cautious.”
Steve Harter was at home watching the Daytona 500 on TV in the small town of Buffalo about 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27 when Beck’s truck plowed into a tree and then Harter’s parked pickup, through a bedroom and into the living room, knocking Harter and his chair through the doorway of a nearby bathroom.
“If he wouldn’t have hit my truck, I think he would have gone right on through the house,” Harter said in his new house, built on the site of the destroyed structure.
Larry Beck, contacted at his Springfield home, declined comment. Jeffrey Beck did not respond to a message left at the home, nor did Beck’s attorney respond to a request for comment.
Responding to another Associated Press public-records request, officials confirmed that Larry Beck made no disclosure that he had a conflict of interest in the matter. Solano said that officials at each prison determine how to handle employee DUIs and similar offenses and conduct disciplinary proceedings “independent of the IDOC chief of investigations.”
But the Corrections website explains that Larry Beck oversees the investigations unit, and that all reports from that unit go to Beck “for final review and approval.”
All DOC employees must submit a written report about any arrest more serious than a minor traffic violation within five working days, according to state administrative rules. Responding to a public-records request from the AP in August for all reports of arrests or other “reportable incidents” turned in at Graham in the week after Beck’s arrest, Corrections produced just one – about an inmate’s visiting wife falling ill.
After continued AP inquiries, Solano gave a report signed by Beck to the AP in mid-November.
The report indicated Beck signed it at 8 a.m. the day after the accident, 11 hours after a police officer in the emergency room where Beck was receiving trauma treatment for a head injury was told Beck would be hospitalized 12 hours for observation. The officer, William Hill, who is police chief for the towns of Mechanicsburg and Buffalo, left Memorial Medical Center in Springfield at 9:15 that night, according to the report.
A Memorial spokesman would not comment on Beck’s treatment for privacy reasons.
The DOC report says Beck submitted it at Graham prison, 58 miles from his home. He normally works a 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, but it was his regular day off, according to timesheets obtained under the public-access law.
In the report signed by Beck, boxes were marked indicating there was property damage and injuries, but instructions to provide details were ignored. The report indicates the matter was referred to the Graham prison’s chief investigator with the notation, “confirmation and advise.” That investigator ultimately reports to the elder Beck.
Solano said no internal investigations are begun until after court action and no follow-up reports are required, but that prison personnel “may” collect police reports or other documents even if they don’t open an investigation. Hill, the police chief, said DOC never contacted his office.