By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – A double homicide in South Beloit and an armed robbery involving two former law-enforcement officers marked a busy week for area police agencies and the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office.
The deadly shooting occurred at around 2 p.m., Saturday on South Beloit’s north side. That’s were police found 22-year-old Stephon Gander, of South Beloit, suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. Zach Fosberg, 19, also of South Beloit, was shot in the chest. Both men died at respective hospitals. A 21-year-old man was also shot and is expected to survive.
Several hours later, 18-year-old Logan Wonder, of South Beloit, arrived at the police station with a 17-year-old boy and allegedly turned themselves in to police. Wonder has been charged with first-degree murder is currently being held on a $5 million bond. The juvenile is being held on pending charges in an un-related case.
Details of the killings are still limited, although South Beloit Police Chief Pat Hoey said the victims and the alleged shooter knew each other.
On Monday, July 30, charges were announced against 37-year-old ex-Rockford Police Officer Yuliya Kuznets and 50-year-old James B. Akerman, a former Metro Enforcement security guard. Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato said the couple were armed and wearing black masks when they entered the Van Galder bus depot in the early hours of July 22 and demanded money and property from at least one victim. At shot was fired during the robbery.
A follow-up investigation led police to a home on Myott Avenue between North Main and Auburn streets, Friday, July 27, where they served a search warrant and seized a cache of guns, prescription drugs and other evidence they say links the suspects to armed robbery.
Kuznets and Akerman were arrested without incident at another location last Friday.
“Nobody is above the law,” Bruscato said Monday. “My other reaction is one of disappointment because the public puts trust in individuals who take on these (law enforcement) positions, and when that trust is breached, it’s problematic.”
Approximately 1,000 rounds of ammunition and more than 4,000 opioid pills were seized from the Myott Avenue address. The drugs included morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone and were valued at $65,000.
The nature of Kuznet and Akerman’s relationship is unclear. Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea would not say whether they are romantically involved, only that they are acquaintances. The SWAT team was deployed to the Myott home as a precaution because the suspects have backgrounds in law enforcement.
“People who have law-enforcement and firearms training raise a little more concern for us,” the chief said. “We don’t want to end up in gun battles with people.”
Kuznet was hired by the Rockford Police Department in 2005. She was fired for cause in 2013, O’Shea said. Akerman also worked for the city in a non-law enforcement position. Bond for each suspect is currently set at $750,000.
Prosecutors also announced first-degree murder charges in a shooting that left a man dead in the 900 block of North Rockton Avenue last year. David Stephens, 30, of Rockton, was indicted last week on 12 counts of first-degree murder.
Bruscato said that on Sept. 23, 2017, Stephens gunned down 26-year-old Billy Manning at a late-night street party.
The three cases, while unrelated, have one thing in common. They’re all violent offenses, crimes that Bruscato, O’Shea and other officials have vowed to combat. In Rockford, the city has seen a decrease in violent crimes, yet officials continue to remind residents that there is a lot of work ahead to really make an impact. It’s a complicated problem, however, and won’t happen overnight. Meanwhile, Bruscato continues to parrot a message his office will stand by.
“If you pick up a gun or a weapon and commit a violent crime, these cases will be aggressively investigated,” Bruscato said. “And they will be charged and prosecuted. We are asking citizens to look at this at this and see that the actions of (the police) and the state’s attorney’s office are making sure we have a safe community.”
Bruscato said he’s seeing a trend in some of the recent violence. On July 23, a 21-year-old man was shot and killed during a street party at Halsted Road and Sablewood Drive, a similar get-together that preceded the Manning shooting.
“We don’t want to discourage young people from socializing,” Bruscato said. “Every generation has had parties. “But sometimes these large parties come with individuals who bring weapons, matters escalate and result in people getting injured and sometimes, unfortunately, killed.” R.