Wilmette police stand by arrest of Chicago sportswriter after charges are dropped
A Wilmette traffic arrest made regional headlines in August when the criminal charges were dropped by the Cook County State’s Attorney.
Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Rick Telander, 72, of Highwood, was taken into custody around 1 a.m. on July 25 in Wilmette on suspicion of DUI. Three weeks later, on Aug. 18 a county judge ruled that Wilmette police did not “have reasonable grounds to believe (the) defendant was intoxicated,” according to a court-order transcript.
In the wake of the court decision, Telander issued a statement to media reporter Robert Feder, of the Daily Herald and www.robertfeder.com. In it, he called the DUI charge “improper.”
“I just want to make sure people understand that ALL (sic) the charges brought against me — including disregarding a traffic signal, improper lane usage, speeding, and no auto insurance — were also dropped,” Telander wrote to Feder. “All were wrong. Every one of them.”
Telander did not return messages from The Record.
Wilmette Police Chief Kyle Murphy would not comment on details of the arrest; however, he stood behind the officers who arrested Telander.
“The officer had probable cause to conduct a traffic stop after observing several violations of the Illinois Vehicle Code,” Murphy wrote in a statement. “Based on the driving, observations during the stop and field sobriety testing, the officer had sufficient facts to reasonably believe the driver was impaired and therefore subject to an arrest.”
The Wilmette Police Department has averaged 34 DUI arrests per year since 2016. According to a report from the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, in 2020, Wilmette’s 29 DUI arrests ranked 84th out of 425 Illinois municipalities, and its 0.7 arrest rate (per police officer) ranked in the bottom half.
The Record obtained and reviewed the incident’s police report and the accompanying dash-cam videos of the arrest.
The dash-cam footage was provided to The Record by the Wilmette Police Department on a compact disc and in a format that could not be downloaded and published.
According to the report, at 12:40 a.m. on July 25, a Wilmette police vehicle driven by Sgt. Solveig Gehrken turned to follow a Honda CRV driven by Telander after it reportedly turned left from Green Bay Road to Lake Avenue while the stoplight was red. The traffic light is not visible in the dash-cam video.
As seen in the recording, with the police vehicle behind Telander’s, his CRV drifts into the center turn lane on Lake Avenue west of Ridge Road and continues driving in the turn lane for more than five seconds. The police report states Telander twice drove into the curb along Lake Avenue, but that is not visible in the video footage.
Telander was pulled over and asked a series of questions by Gehrken. According to the report, Telander’s eyes were glassy and bloodshot. Gehrken noted in the report a “strong” smell of alcohol coming from Telander, and she marked that his speech was “slurred” and “thick-tongued” — both adjectives are among a series of options listed on Wilmette’s DUI report form.
Answering questions from Gehrken, Telander said he was at a concert in Evanston and had “a couple of beers.”
When asked why he crossed over into the turn lane, Telander told Gehrken that he was looking at his phone.
As heard in the video, Telander completed two sobriety tests while in his vehicle: reciting a portion of the alphabet and counting backward from 69 to 51.
Telander can be heard in the video having difficulty locating proof of car insurance, and he was charged with operating an uninsured vehicle — one of four charges dropped by the county state’s attorney’s office.
Gehrken tells Telander to get out of the vehicle to “make sure you are OK to drive,” and he tells the officer that he cannot complete standard field sobriety tests because of medical issues involving his knees.
Outside of the car, Gehrken tests Telander’s eye movements using her flashlight and notes in the report that he shows six cues of impairment, including “lack of smooth pursuit.” Telander is facing away from the dash camera while undergoing the eye-movement testing, the video shows.
Telander then refuses to provide a breath sample and is subsequently placed under arrest, as seen and heard in the dash-cam footage.
In the report, Gehrken noted that the effect of alcohol on Telander was “extreme” — the highest designation among four options (“none,” “slight,” “obvious”) — and he is “unfit” to operate a motor vehicle.
At the Wilmette Police Station, the report says, Telander again refused to provide a breath sample.
With his attorney Bill Luby, Telander was in front of a judge in civil court on Aug. 18.
As explained by Luby and Chief Murphy, there are two cases related to a DUI arrest: the civil case for the suspension of the arrestee’s driver’s license and the criminal case for the DUI and any other charges.
Judge Paul Pavlus, of the Circuit Court of Cook County, ruled on Aug. 18 that the Wilmette Police Department did not have just cause to arrest Telander for DUI and the state needs to “rescind the statutory summary suspension” of Telander’s driver’s license and strike the suspension from his driving record, according to court documents.
The ruling was made after testimony from Gehrken and others and a review of the police report and dash-cam footage, Luby said.
“In this case, the (police report) that she testified to, which were her observations, the judge didn’t believe were borne out by either her testimony or the video tape,” he said.
The Cook County State’s Attorney dropped the criminal case after the ruling by Pavlus.
The state’s attorney’s office did not return multiple messages from The Record.
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Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319