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Profiling the Media?

A State Journal-Register reporter who covered a murder trial in Quincy last spring believes he was targeted by law enforcement because of news articles he wrote about the trial, his lawyer says.

Records show that Bruce Rushton had just finished covering the Shirley Skinner murder trial for The State Journal-Register in Quincy on May 6 when he was pulled over outside the Adams County Courthouse and charged with driving with a suspended license and disregarding a stop sign.

The license-related charge was dropped, but the incident has prompted a legal effort by Rushton, 46, to determine why he was stopped in the first place and to get the stop sign ticket dismissed. His attorneys are seeking information on law enforcement radio traffic and usage of a database used to check criminal records.

The stop sign charge is scheduled for an Oct. 12 court date in Quincy, said Dan Fultz, the attorney handling that part of the case. Rushton has retained Springfield lawyer Don Craven to help gain access to official records under the Freedom of Information Act.

“There is some concern he is being targeted,” Fultz said of Rushton. “That appears to be one of the motivations, but I don’t have anything to verify it at this point.”

Fultz said at issue is how the National Crime Information Center database was used to check Rushton’s driving record before the traffic stop.

Records show that Ashland Police Chief Jim Birdsell used the system to run a check on Rushton’s name on May 4, two days before the traffic stop in Quincy. At the time Birdsell ran the check in Ashland, Rushton was in Quincy, Fultz said.

Records reviewed by the newspaper showed Birdsell ran the first check of Rushton’s name in NCIC at 9:04 p.m. May 4. Birdsell says he was acting on a tip when he told Illinois State Police that Rushton’s driver’s license might be suspended because of a DUI charge.

“Somebody told me he had gotten a DUI in Sangamon County,” Birdsell said. “Whenever I get that kind of information, I verify it before I act on it. The computer showed he was suspended, and because he was in Adams County out of my jurisdiction, I just passed it on to the state police.”

Rushton was arrested and charged with DUI and speeding after a traffic stop in Springfield on Oct. 18, 2009. The DUI charge was dismissed due to insufficient evidence at the request of the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office on Nov. 6. Rushton pleaded guilty to speeding and paid $200 in fines and court costs.

A motion filed by Fultz to reinstate Rushton's driver’s license was granted Nov. 6, but the suspension was still listed in the system when Birdsell checked Rushton's name.

Birdsell said he didn’t remember who told him about the DUI case.

The police chief had spent the earlier part of May 4 testifying in Skinner's case. The Ashland woman was convicted of shooting to death Steven Watkins, the estranged husband of her granddaughter.


Steve.Scott's picture

Any chance the guy DID run the stop sign?

Steve Scott, News Anchor
WCBS Newsradio 880
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