Boone County News: Boone County sues gang in civil court—Winnebago County to follow suit?
By Stuart R. Wahlin, Staff Writer
Boone County State’s Attorney Michelle Courier (R) announced July 14 her office has filed a lawsuit against the Latin Kings, one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most organized street gangs.
The Almighty Latin King Nation, established in the 1940s, is estimated to have nearly 30,000 members in Chicago alone.
The Illinois Street Gang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act, passed by the General Assembly in 1993, asserts that gangs pose a threat to order and public safety, and that communities have a right to seek redress in the courts.
In 1999, DuPage County was the first in the state to use the act as a means to combat gang activity within its affluent borders.
It wasn’t until 2004, however, that a permanent injunction was issued against known gang members named in the lawsuit, which prohibits them from public contact with each other.
DuPage County Circuit Judge Edward Duncan did not award the more than $500,000 in requested damages, however, but county prosecutors maintain the act is an effective deterrent.
DuPage has since applied the principle in at least two other lawsuits yielding injunctive relief, including one against the Latin Kings in 2006.
Based on this law, Courier is seeking to make Boone County a little less welcoming to gang activity.
“Gangs are here,” Courier acknowledged. “They are on our streets, in our parks, and in our schools. They need to go. The filing of this lawsuit is another tool we can use to combat street gangs. We are seeking a long-term proactive prosecution of the entire gang, rather than relying solely on the reactive prosecution of individual gang members.”
Courier told The Rock River Times she wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if no monetary damages are awarded.
“The goal is not so much the monetary damages as it is trying to get them to not associate, because that’s when gang activity occurs,” she explained. “We’re focusing on the injunctive portion of it, prohibiting them from associating with one another in public view.”
According to the lawsuit, Latin Kings have allegedly engaged in unlawful possession and use of weapons, defacing property with graffiti, battery and drug trafficking in Boone County since 2004. Per the complaint, Latin Kings would face stiffer penalties for such crimes.
“Not only would they face the criminal penalties, but they would also face further repercussions from this action,” Courier said.
As injunctive relief, Courier is asking the court to prohibit members of the Latin Kings from being seen with one another in public, at parks in particular.
“Now, through this civil lawsuit, we have an opportunity to undermine the backbone of the gang organization by obtaining a court order which prohibits gang members from associating with each other,” Courier explained. “This will be more effective than relying solely on the individual prosecution of gang members.”
She noted, however: “We have and will continue to aggressively prosecute crimes involving individual gang members.”
Although the lawsuit targets the gang as a whole, more than 30 “known” members of the Latin Kings in the Belvidere area are also named as defendants.
Additionally, the lawsuit requests open-ended monetary damages of at least $50,000 to recompense law enforcement efforts to counter gang activity in Boone County.
Responses to the civil complaint are due within 30 days, but Courier said she’s already begun receiving them from defendants.
“Primarily, they’re willing to enter into an agreed order not to associate with one another,” she reported. “I’ve had a couple people come in saying, ‘As long as you don’t ask me for the money, I will be willing to not associate with them.’”
Courier said she’s encouraged by the results thus far, and that law enforcement has already gained valuable gang information since the defendants were served the lawsuit.
“It’s gonna be an effective tool,” she asserted. “Obviously, it’s not gonna be the only tool, but it’s gonna be one of many tools that we can use to combat gangs in our community.”
Should Boone County’s
neighbors be concerned?
If gang members have worn out their welcome in Boone County, it stands to reason they may find Winnebago County more conducive, compounding the Rockford area’s already significant gang challenges.
“I think the bordering communities need to be concerned about that,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato (D) said.
Bruscato indicated he, along with area law enforcement, will be keeping tabs on the Boone County defendants to make sure they don’t set up shop here.
As for Winnebago County adopting the proactive approach implemented by Boone and DuPage counties, Bruscato is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“That’s not a strategy, right now, that I’m looking at,” he said. “I’m sitting with great curiosity and anticipation of the successes that the Boone County State’s Attorney’s office could potentially have here.”
Regardless, Bruscato said his office works aggressively to counter gang activity through other means.
“A lot of the desired results in the lawsuits are things that we do daily, whether it be through law enforcement, conditions of bond,” Bruscato noted. “For example, if a person’s arrested, one of the standard conditions of bond, if they’re a known gang member, is that they not associate with gang members, just like the injunctions are designed to try to curtail gang members from getting together.
“I applaud Michelle Courier and her staff for their efforts, and we certainly are going to be looking at what we do. And, of course, we’re going to be very vigilant over here, especially with those who are named in the suit,” Bruscato added. “Hopefully, the neighboring communities around Boone will be as well.”
Meantime, other Illinois communities, including Kane County, are pursuing similar civil complaints against gangs.
from the July 22-28, 2009, issue
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