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Harry O'Neal

Other Will County, Illinois exonerations
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On November 23, 2013, 42-year-old Harry O’Neal, a building contractor, was pulled over in Rockdale, Illinois because he did not have a light illuminating his rear license plate. Rockdale police officer Robert Baikie radioed for backup and Will County sheriff’s deputy James Reilly responded to the scene.

O’Neal gave his driver’s license and vehicle registration to Baikie, who walked back to his squad car to check them. Meanwhile, Reilly arrived and walked over to speak to O’Neal. According to Reilly, O’Neal refused to put the car into park, kept his foot on the gas pedal, and refused to roll his window all the way down. As a result, Reilly said, he broke the window with his flashlight, reached in, and put the car in park. During the fracas, Reilly said O’Neal struck him in the head and assaulted Baikie when he came to help Reilly.

Reilly was charged with two counts of aggravated battery of a police officer. He went to trial in Will County Circuit Court and chose to have his case decided by a judge without a jury.

Baikie testified that he noticed that O’Neal’s license plate was not illuminated and executed a traffic stop. He said O’Neal did not stop right away, but pulled into an alley before stopping. Baikie said he activated his body camera and went to the passenger side of O’Neal’s car because the vehicle was not in park. He said he asked O’Neal to put the car in park, roll down his window, and provide his driver’s license and registration. Baikie said O’Neal was agitated, argumentative, and uncooperative. After exchanging heated words, O'Neal provided the documents, Baikie returned to his car and turned off his body camera.

Reilly testified that when he arrived, he went to talk to O’Neal. Baikie said that at that point, he heard the engine of O’Neal’s car roar and saw lots of exhaust. He noticed Reilly was struggling with O’Neal, radioed for help, and ran to O’Neal’s vehicle.

Baikie said he saw “basically [an] exchange of fists…you know, strikes.” Baikie opened the car door and pulled O’Neal out. He testified that “just fists were going, arms were moving, everybody was moving.” Baikie said he knew O’Neal hit him because he “seen it,” explaining that O’Neal was the only one in the car and he was struck from inside the car. Baikie said O’Neal elbowed him in the face and broke his glasses.

Once they were outside the car, Baikie said Reilly was on the ground, O’Neal was on top of Reilly punching him while Reilly was hitting O’Neal with his flashlight.

After O’Neal’s defense lawyer showed the dashcam video, Baikie admitted that the open trunk of O’Neal’s car blocked the view from the dashcam video. Moreover, on cross-examination, Baikie said that O’Neal struck him in the face, although he did not know if O’Neal used an open or closed fist.

Reilly testified that O’Neal’s eyes were red and glossy, and his speech was very slurred “or even slow in nature.” He said O’Neal’s car was in gear and O’Neal had his foot on the gas pedal. He also said there was no radio in the dashboard, just wires hanging out. He said that the steering column appeared to have been tampered with, leading him to suspect the vehicle was stolen.

Reilly said O’Neal lowered his window only a few inches when asked to roll his window down, and ignored multiple requests to place the vehicle in park. At that point, Reilly said, he reached into the car and put it in park. He had his head and shoulders in the car. He said O’Neal put his hand on top of Reilly’s hand on the stick shift and revved the engine.

Reilly said O’Neal tried to put the car in drive so Reilly smashed the window with his flashlight in order to use both hands to shift the car into park. He hit O’Neal, who in return struck Reilly in the head and chest. Reilly said they then fell into the street and O’Neal hit him on his head, shoulders, and chest.

On cross-examination, Reilly admitted he did not receive any medical treatment and suffered no bruises or marks from the incident.

O’Neal testified on his own behalf. He said he purchased his car, a Cadillac, new in 1994 and there had been no modification to the radio or steering column. He said he was on the phone getting directions from a contractor when Baikie pulled him over. At that point, he was upset and yelling at the contractor. O’Neal testified that he gave Baikie his driver’s license and insurance card. He said the passenger window did not work. He also said that because he was in an unfamiliar area, he was hesitant to unlock the door and that when Reilly first approached him, he did not know Reilly was a police officer.

As a result, he told Reilly to go away and that there was no reason to pull him over. O’Neal said Reilly then said that if he didn’t roll down the window, he would break it—and then did just that. O’Neal said he raised his arms and Reilly hit him in the mouth with the flashlight. O’Neal said he received medical treatment for lacerations to the face afterwards. In rebuttal, Reilly denied O’Neal’s account and Baikie said he did not see cuts or bruises on O’Neal after his arrest.

On January 7, 2015, Judge David Martin Carlson convicted O’Neal of aggravated battery of Reilly. He acquitted O’Neal of aggravated battery of Baikie. The judge said that the reason for the stop was suspect, but that did not excuse resisting “even unlawful orders” from an officer.

Judge Carlson denied a motion for a new trial, saying, “I guess what it really comes down to, Mr. O’Neal, is that video. It is that few seconds on the video…If I recall correctly, a couple of seconds of whether there is, I use the term scuffle for lack of a better way to describe it, but it is that brief interaction that you and Deputy Reilly had when he reached in the car. Because of the nature of the offense I don’t believe there is any sort of self-defense or nothing that I can say that I can – could use legally to justify actions as it relates to this, Mr. O’Neal. “

Judge Carlson then sentenced O’Neal to six years in prison.

In September 2018, the Illinois Appellate Court set aside the conviction and ordered the case dismissed because of insufficient evidence. The court ruled that “from the beginning of Reilly’s encounter with O’Neal,” Reilly’s account “does not match” the dashcam video.

The appeals court said the video showed that’s Reilly’s head remained outside of O’Neal’s car and that the left to right movement of Reilly’s flashlight corresponded to the movement of O’Neal’s head as he is being struck. “While the video demonstrates the inaccuracies in Reilly's version of events, it likewise shows that O’Neal’s testimony was consistent with the recording of the encounter,” the appeals court said.

On November 19, 2018, the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge and O’Neal was released.

On December 2, 2019, O’Neal was granted a certificate of innocence, clearing the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. He also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages from Will County.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/9/2020
State:Illinois
County:Will
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2013
Convicted:2015
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:6 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:42
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No