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Coal City firefighter speaks out after looting charges dropped

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Coal City firefighter talks about his arrest on looting charges after a tornado touched down in Diamond, Ill.

Charges were later dropped against Michael Barrow. He is now taking legal action because of that arrest. He's claiming wrongdoing by the Will County sheriff's deputy who took him into custody.

Not long after the tornado hit, Barrow and his wife raced to check on relatives. As he walked next to a flattened barn on long-held family property adjacent to I-55, a Will County sheriff's deputy said, "You're under arrest."

"The officer approached me and said, 'What are you doing down here? And I said, 'I'm looking for whatever we could save.' And he didn't want to hear my story, and I was on the way to county within five minutes of being arrested," Barrow said.

A stunned Barrow was cuffed and taken to jail, where he spent 26 hours behind bars. While he was locked up came the stories about the Coal City firefighter - complete with mugshot - being investigated for looting. A sheriff's spokesperson said Barrow was seen running from a destroyed tobacco shop and was caught with 15 packs of stolen cigars and cigarettes.

For Barrow to have done that, he would have to have run several hundred yards and crossed a stream without getting wet after having stolen cigars and cigarettes in an area populated by police while he was wearing an outfit that clearly identified him as a Coal City firefighter.

"I want my good name returned. I want an apology from the police department, and I want somebody held accountable because if this can happen to a public servant, think what can happen to you," Barrow said.

The charges against Barrow were dropped, but he's filed a federal suit against the sheriff's department and the arresting officer, Michael Blouin, contending that Blouin cooked up a phony report.

"I don't know what his motive was for doing it, but he made a very serious mistake," said Scott Kamin.

The sheriff's office has declined comment and is not saying whether Blouin is under internal investigation. Barrow - faced with a rebuilding task - is faced with a bigger challenge: How do you restore reputation?

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