Morgan County States Attorney Candidate Questionnaire: Tyson Manker

Morgan County States Attorney Candidate Questionnaire: Tyson Manker

Education:

I am a proud product of our local public school system. My years growing up were spent in District 117 at South Elementary, Turner Junior High, and Jacksonville High School where I graduated in 2000.

After my enlistment in the Marine Corps infantry, in 2005 I enrolled in trade school at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute where I trained to become a certified Harley-Davidson technician. I then worked in the motorcycle industry for about a year. But after surviving a violent near-fatal attack in Austin, TX, I came home ready to pursue my education with a new lease on life. Motorcycles are just a hobby now, but it’s still safe to say: if something runs on gas, I can probably fix it.

In 2009, I graduated from Lincoln Land Community College and was selected as the first Student Commencement Speaker from Jacksonville in the school’s history. From there I went on to study Political Science at the University of Illinois, graduating in 2011 with high honors. Just over two years later in the spring of 2014, I graduated from law school and passed up several job opportunities to return home and practice law in South Jacksonville.

Career History/Highlights:

I am a proud United States Marine and combat Veteran of the Iraq War. Someone recently told me that I would be the first local State’s Attorney in 50+ years (perhaps ever) with military experience, which if true adds yet another layer of importance to this election.

Recently, I had the honor of speaking at the U.S. Capitol on behalf of Veterans and servicemembers across the Nation who have been unjustly discharged with Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, or Military Sexual Trauma. In my view, we have a moral obligation as Americans to fight for those who fight wars on our behalf, which is why I am determined to create a Veterans Treatment Court right here in Morgan County.

Like the Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis, meaning “Always Faithful,” I have always and will continue to do everything I can to help a fellow Veteran in need. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction.

Like my service in the Marines, I got into the legal profession because I wanted to help people, and because I was sick and tired (still am) of watching corrupt politicians and bureaucrats play by a different set of rules than everybody else. As a red-blooded American, I feel obligated to stand up and take action when I see something wrong. Shying away from controversy or turning a blind eye to injustice is something I simply cannot do. Being an attorney has allowed me to stand up for people, which is what I’m all about.

When I read the Illinois State Police report about corruption in South Jacksonville where I live, I filed the first Ethics Action of its kind against 3 top officials who all eventually resigned. Despite repeated calls for prosecution from State Police Investigators, our current Police Chief, and the entire board of trustees, not a single person has ever been questioned, which I cannot explain.

While some could fairly argue that justice was never fully realized, I was honored for my efforts with a “Courage Award” by Adam Andrzejewski’s American Transparency organization.

As a solo attorney, over the last years I have successfully defended clients in felony and misdemeanor cases throughout the region. I have also had the privilege of teaching at Lincoln Land Community College in Jacksonville for the last 3 years, during which time I’ve been able to mentor a number of local students on their path forward. I’m happy to serve as the Recording Secretary for Jacksonville Main Street, and as legal counsel for the Outlet mentoring program.

Personal Stuff: Wife, Kids, Dogs, Hobbies!

Nothing is more important to me than family, which is a big part of why I have returned to stay in Morgan County where my family has lived since the 1840s. My parents are both JHS graduates and Illinois College alumni, as well as lifelong educators in the Jacksonville Schools. I’m blessed to have an older brother, Brad, who is an amazing artist, teacher, and all-around tremendous human being who I look up to in many ways. He is now teaching educational technology in Memphis, while completing his online Master’s degree at the University of Florida. I am very proud of him.

My dogs are my kids. Clara Mae (English bulldog), Sonia (Corgi Shepard mix), and Lucy (Lab Shepard mix). In the 10 years after my discharge from the Marines, I was blessed to have a bulldog named Ethel, who got me through many tough times. Her ashes are now in my room, in her bed with all of her things.

I love to play guitar when I have any free time. When I came back from Iraq, I had a pretty lengthy bucket list. Teaching myself how to play guitar was one of my goals. I’ve been playing 13 years now, and love to write my own music.

What experience do you have to be the Morgan County States Attorney?

I was born and raised in Morgan County, it’s the only home I’ve ever had. Having lived here my entire life, I owe a great deal to many people who have supported me through the years, in both good times and bad.

In my 34 years, I’ve seen and experienced a lot. I’ve made some good choices and also plenty of bad ones. From that I can honestly say I’ve learned more from the “bad” times in my life than from the good – success brings temporary joy, while each failure brings more permanent, personal retrospect.

As is the case with everyone, my experiences made me who I am today. We never had a lot of money growing up, but my parents raised us with an abundance of love. My fondest childhood memories are of baseball practices and games the Elks and Pony Colt leagues, soccer scrimmages at Community Park, YMCA basketball and 3-on-3 tournaments in Franklin and Meredosia.

When I stumbled in my teens, the people of this community never gave up on me, for which I am eternally grateful. My brushes with the law when I was younger give me a perspective that most prosecutors are privileged from having personally experienced. I understand and appreciate the value of second chances, because I have been given several.

I could write a book about my experiences in the Marine Corps, and how being an infantry marine on the “tip of the spear” during the U.S. invasion of Iraq shaped my worldview and outlook on things. Since serving my country was an honor that is difficult to describe with words, I’ll simply say my oath to the Constitution never expires. I would be extremely proud to serve as the first Morgan County State’s Attorney in modern history with military and/or combat experience.

I was nearly stabbed to death in Texas (not Iraq) by a knife-wielding stranger, so I know what it’s like to be a survivor of violent crime. My near-death experience helped me reprioritize what is important in life, and gave me a dramatically enhanced viewpoint on just about everything. I tell people getting stabbed was the best thing that ever happened to me, and it’s true.

Professionally, I have been practicing on my own as a trial attorney for two years, having successfully defended both felony and misdemeanor cases in Morgan and surrounding counties. From contract disputes, estate planning, veterans claims, etc. I also offer free pro bono counsel for battered victims of the local Crisis Center.

I am the only person who has been talking about, let alone working to create, a Veterans Treatment Court in Morgan County. As a veteran, I am 100% committed to advocating for those who serve, unlike career politicians who only seem to care about Veterans and servicemembers around elections and on patriotic holidays, when they use military men and women as props for their political photo ops.

I feel I am the right person for the job, with the right experiences, running for the right reasons.

What issues do you believe face Morgan County at this time and how are you able to address these needs:

We have a major corruption problem in Illinois, and Morgan County is no exception. I have no desire to be part of or benefit from the ‘good ole boy’ system that has dominated local politics for the last 50 years, and I have demonstrated my commitment is to the people of this county.

People know I can’t be bought off with a favor or political appointment, and that I will enforce Equal Justice Under the Law. It is my hope that in time, people will regain trust in our justice system that has been lost over time. There is a serious lack of honest leadership in the State’s Attorney’s office, which I intend to restore.

Hardcore drugs are a big albeit not-so-new problem in Morgan County. No one should have to live next to a toxic Meth house that could explode at any minute. And no one should worry about heroin peddlers on their corner. I’m all for using our established Drug Court to help those who truly seek rehabilitation, but pushers and habitual offenders are going to start facing serious punishments if I am elected.

Even though the people of Morgan County are some of the most patriotic around, we don’t have a Veterans Treatment Court. That has to change.

How are budget cuts affecting the probation department of this community and what impact will that have your ability for defendants to successfully complete probation and or supervision?

Budget cuts exist because career politicians in Springfield and Chicago can’t get their acts together. Like anything else, we will work with existing realities. Budget cuts will not affect my casework or ability to enforce probation/supervision.

What type of criteria would you apply before recusing yourself from a case?

It is important that the people of Morgan County have a prosecutor who will actually prosecute, who is willing to take on tough cases, and who won’t let their official duties be influenced by political or personal interests.

Since every case has a different set of facts, I’ll generally recuse myself from cases:

  • Where I have represented a client in private practice in the current criminal matter; or
  • Where I have learned facts through previous private representation that are relevant to the current criminal matter.

If I had family members who are lawyers that actively represent defendants in Morgan County, I’d have to recuse myself from every criminal case that my relative entered as counsel. But since I am the first Attorney in my family, that’s not an issue for me. Unlike others, I also have absolutely no financial interests with any attorney or law firm that might require my recusal from a case.

As an unconnected outsider with zero ties to the political establishment, I won’t have to call in outside prosecutors to handle my cases for me. Crimes committed in Morgan County should be prosecuted by the Morgan County State’s Attorney. That’s why I will never shy away from my commitment to enforcing Equal Justice Under the Law and restoring your faith in our local justice system.

What sentencing policies do you support to reduce incarceration rates in the state, yet ensure an adequate level of public safety is maintained?

I support Gov. Rauner’s State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which issued its first report this year with recommendations that aim to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent in ten years.

With Illinois prisons now operating beyond 150% of their intended capacity, the Committee found incarceration rates “have increased more than 500 percent in the last forty years, with a disproportionate impact on the State’s poor, mostly minority citizens.”

Not only do we have a moral obligation to rethink outdated sentencing laws, we simply can’t afford to keep throwing nonviolent offenders in prison for minor offenses. Illinois taxpayers spend a whopping $1.3 billion on the Dept. of Corrections every year, and yet nearly half of released inmates will reoffend and return to prison within three years.

I believe sentencing policies should be fair, consistent, and proportionate to the alleged offense. That’s why I support policies that give judges more discretion in determining whether probation is appropriate for certain low-level felonies, as well as certain measures designed to give first-time offenders a second chance.

I also support policies that aim to reduce recidivism and increase an individual’s chances of successfully reintegrating with society. Things like removing unnecessary barriers that prevent reintegrating offenders from obtaining professional licensing, and prioritizing access to treatment and therapy programs for the highest-risk offenders seem perfectly logical.

The fact remains, no matter how Illinois lawmakers revise current sentencing policies, my top priority will always be to keep dangerous criminals off the streets so that our communities remain safe and prosperous places to live and raise a family for years to come.

What felony offenses do you support reducing to misdemeanor offenses under Illinois Criminal Statutes?

In general, I would consider reducing felony charges as part of a negotiated plea for first-time offenders in cases where the alleged offense is nonviolent, there is no clear victim, rehabilitation seems possible, and where mitigating factors exist or the offender appears unlikely to commit similar offenses in the future.

I do not support reducing felony aggravated sexual abuse of a minor to a misdemeanor any circumstances, which happened recently in Morgan County.

Do you support [the] legalization of recreational marijuana?

Whether or not adults should be free to consume marijuana like alcohol and tobacco is a question of policy for policymakers in Springfield, not for Prosecutors who enforce the law.

Truth be told, Illinois lawmakers effectively legalized recreational marijuana this summer when Gov. Rauner signed a decriminalization bill into law that removed all criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of the substance.

As a patriot, I personally support individual freedom, state’s rights, and placing limits on Government intrusions into our private lives. I do not support the nearly 80-year federal prohibition of marijuana, which has been as successful and beneficial for America as alcohol prohibition was.

In a Manker administration, prosecuting individuals for personal-use marijuana possession will not be a priority.

Do you support the use of body cameras by law enforcement officers and if so, what protection would you put in place to balance the public’s need to see the video versus the integrity of an investigation and privacy of victims?

Last year, Gov. Rauner signed the “Law Enforcement Worn-Body Camera Act” into law (50 ILCS 706/10 et seq.), which set the statutory framework requirements for police body camera use throughout Illinois. The Act does not require officers to wear body cameras, but does require the State’s Law Enforcement Training Board to develop model policies and procedures for all police departments who use them.

That said, I support technological developments —like body cameras— that better enable law enforcement officers to collect admissible evidence for use in criminal prosecutions. When it’s available, video documentation can be one of the strongest pieces of evidence available to a Prosecutor.

Body cameras have other benefits too. If someone knows they’re being recorded, studies have shown they will act more civilly to the officer, which could help deescalate and prevent violent encounters. Video documentation can also protect officers from false allegations, and cut down on frivolous lawsuits.

According to SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel, “The body cameras make good cops great cops and make marginal ones follow the rules.” He says “It also shows the public how [poorly] some folks treat the police. The cameras protect both sides.”

As is human nature, citizens and police are bound to behave better when they know they are being recorded, which is a good thing.

That said, being a new use of not-so-new technology there are without question a number issues that have yet to be resolved regarding the employment of police body cameras. Plus, there are incalculable drawbacks, like only portraying one angle, often from a moving officer. Not to mention, it is impossible to truly understand what it’s like to be in the situations police officers find themselves in trying to track down bad guys to keep us safe.

From my own experience chasing down armed terrorists, I understand enough about what it’s like to be in the heat of the moment while pursuing a suspect. Mistakes are bound to be made, but that doesn’t always mean bad intentions are present. Videos are limited in that sense, and I think it can be dangerous when media outlets and social media use video clips from body cameras to advance their agendas without any regard to this or any other reality.

As far as whether and when footage should be accessible to the public, I do not feel it is appropriate to release body camera footage until after a standard law enforcement investigation has been completed, because doing so in my opinion will unfairly prejudice the integrity of the case, as has been shown in a number of recent high profile cases. (**It is important to note that the law has measures that protect the privacy of victims and witnesses from public releases of footage.)

As of this writing, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Board has yet to develop guidelines under the law, which it eventually will. Whatever policies end up being implemented, all citizens should favor measures that strengthen public trust in government institutions, which is what Rauner’s body camera law aims to do. Whatever practices are implemented by law enforcement agencies in this county, I will support them.

Presently there is much unrest between law enforcement officers and others in the world. Do you see this as a problem in our community at this time and what is your thought about efforts that you could make to ensure it doesn’t happen in this community?

It pains me to see this country I love in such turmoil. We are seriously declining and face a number of complex issues, the last thing we need is to be turning on one another—especially with major adversaries like China, Russia, ISIS, etc. just waiting to strike.

That said, if you’re ever stopped by police, the simplest way to avoid escalating the encounter 100% of the time is to simply comply with their orders, even if you disagree with their reasoning. It is never appropriate under any circumstance flee from or struggle with an officer, because those who do have themselves escalated the situation, which officers are then trained to respond to.

Your best bet is to follow the law, and if you are wrongfully stopped or arrested, having faith in legal experts and the court system to fully exonerate you.

No, I do not think the kind of unrest between law enforcement and minorities that is happening elsewhere in the country is an issue in Morgan County. There will always be tension between people who have frequent contact with law enforcement. In many cases, the problem stems from total outsiders trying to come in and enforce laws in communities they don’t understand or empathize with. That said, I went to school and played ball with a number of local officers, and I can assure you they are good people with honest intentions. Just like with community policing, community prosecuting takes an understanding of the community you’re in.

The point is, we seriously have to come together as friends, neighbors and Americans, and you can only reach people when you’re willing to meet them with an open mind, free of judgment. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I know I truly care about the well being of every member of this community, and I want everyone to succeed and look back and always be proud to be from here.

We need to spend less time blaming each another for our problems and more time figuring out how to work together to fix them.

Anything else you wish to add:

We launched this campaign last November because the people of this county have been deprived of Equal Justice Under the Law for too long. I’ve heard too many times to count how people are tired of the appointment system, with every State’s Attorney in the last 50+ years starting their career as a hand picked appointee.

This election is not about me. It is about breaking the cycle of corruption that has ruled our county and state for decades. It’s about finally standing up for Veterans. It’s about honest leadership that can’t be appointed or bought off. I don’t owe anything to party elites, my allegiance is simply to the Constitution and people of this county I’ve called home my entire life.

I would be honored to serve as your next State’s Attorney, and if elected, I will do everything in my power to help our police restore safety to the streets and fundamental fairness to the courts.

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