Man sues Joliet police who fired shots at him

A man who says he was shot several times last summer by Joliet police officers has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the City of Joliet.

The complaint, which will be pursued in federal court alleges excessive force and is seeking millions of dollars in damages.

James Pacheco shows the scars left behind by bullets that struck him in several places on his arm, shoulder and upper lip.

These are gunshot wounds he says he sustained when a Joliet police officer fired multiple shots at Pacheco during an incident last summer.

“I had no idea why their guns were drawn or why they were pulling me over,” Pacheco said.

Early in the morning of July 30, 2012, Pacheco was driving in the 900-block of East Washington Street when he was stopped by a train.

He made a u-turn and was stopped by Joliet officers investigating a report that implicated Pacheco in property damage nearby.

Pacheco says officers demanded he get out of the car, and before he could respond, opened fire.

The incident was caught on surveillance video.

Officers could be heard demanding that Pacheco get out of his car. Pacheco in turn asking why, saying he didn’t do anything.

Then, gunshots are heard.

Pacheco, saying he was fearing for his life, sped away and then crashed after a few miles.

“I don’t believe no matter what I did that night, I’m being accused of something that was minor, busting a window, I don’t think anybody deserves to be shot,” Pacheco said.

“You literally drive away to try to save your life. Pull over because you can’t go any further and what does the policeman do? Pull out a taser and tases you twice,” said Jeff Tomczak, Pacheco’s attorney.

Pacheco and his attorney, Jeff Tomczak, have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Joliet and the officers involved in the incident. The complaint makes several allegations, including excessive force and battery.

“When they pull the trigger of that gun, there has to be no room for error. No room for overreaction. No chance that that’s an unjustified shooting,” said Tomczak.

Pacheco still faces charges following that incident, including dui, and attempted aggravated battery.

An attorney for the City of Joliet says the officer involved in the shooting was under internal investigation, and it was found that the use of force was justified. However, he could not comment on the pending litigation.

Plainfield Park Commissioner Accused of Battery, Threats in Spat Over Campaign Signs

There was no resolution Tuesday in the battery trial of a Plainfield Park District commissioner accused of attacking a rival campaign worker in November.

Joliet firefighter Michael Carlin maintains that Peter Steinys, 56, intentionally hit him with a car door, then attempted to strike him before grabbing him by both arms in a dispute over campaign signs.

Carlin was a volunteer for State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-49th District, who successfully ran against village trustee Garrett Peck last fall. Peck is also the new executive director of the Plainfield Park District.

Steinys, who was elected to the park board in April, faces a local ordinance charge of battery, rather than a state charge, meaning he won’t be sentenced to jail time if he’s convicted. As his bench trial before Will County Judge Joseph Polito got under way Tuesday, Steinys did not yet testify — but Carlin did, giving his account of what happened on the night before the Nov. 6 election.

Carlin, who lives in Morris, said he was part of a group of three volunteers who were placing signs in a field near Route 59 and Frasier Road, with the property owner’s permission.

“We had some troubles with that exact location with signs being mutilated [and] ripped out of the ground,” Carlin said. Around 11 p.m., Carlin said he returned to the site to check on the signs.

“As I was driving down Route 59 I observed all Garrett Peck signs in the field only we had permission for,” Carlin said, saying the Peck signs obscured some of the Bertino-Tarrant signs, while others had been tossed into the field.  Carlin said he parked in the church parking lot on the northwest side of field and then began replacing the Bertino-Tarrant signs.

As cars passed, Carlin said the headlights allowed him to spot a man dressed in black, lying in a ditch on the southeast corner of Route 59.

“Traffic’s coming, so I run across the street and I tell the guy, ‘Hey, we’re the only ones with permission to have signs in this field,’” Carlin said, adding that, during an expletive-laden exchange, the man in black disagreed.

“When he said ‘F you,’ I said ‘F you,” Carlin testified. “It wasn’t like I was telling him we were going to fight.”

Instead, while the man walked back to a vehicle, Carlin said he went back to his car and called Bertino-Tarrant campaign director Glenn Marcum to make sure he was in the right about having permission to place the signs in the field. After speaking to Marcum, Carlin said he ran back across Route 59 and approached the vehicle, a white Volkswagen parked near Feeney Drive and McMullin Circle.

There, he said he attempted to address a man he identified as Peter Steinys — not the man in black, who was a passenger in the vehicle and was not identified in court.

“I bent down … I did like an ‘air knock’ on the window, I motioned for him to roll the window down,” Carlin said. Carlin claims he told Steinys he wasn’t looking for problems, noting that he had just had surgery on his left shoulder, but said the Peck signs had to go.

Carlin testified that Steinys then flung the car door open, hitting him on his left side, before exiting the vehicle and swinging at him with both hands. Carlin said he was able to dodge the punches, and that Steinys then used both hands to grab his arms.

“After he was swinging, he was able to get both hands on me,” Carlin said, claiming Steinys threatened him, saying, “I’m sick of this s—, don’t f— with me, I’m going to f—ing kill you.”

According to Carlin, “As he said this, I’m backpedaling. I was able to shove his hands off with my right hand because I couldn’t use my left arm.”

Carlin claimed he ran, and could hear Steinys chasing after him until the passenger, who was the man dressed in all black, yelled for Steinys to stop.

“I think they only thing that stopped Mr. Steinys was the passenger,” Carlin said.

Steinys attorney Ragan Frietag questioned why Carlin would tell Steinys and the other man, now a passenger in the car, about his shoulder injury.

“Because there was two men sitting in a car,” Carlin said. “I didn’t want to have an issue.” Carlin also denied touching the vehicle.

Freitag pointed out that Carlin initiated the conversations, both with the man in black and with Steinys.

“You put yourself in that situation, didn’t you?,” she asked. Freitag also asked Carlin whether he was in the way of the car door, saying, “So you were in the path of where the door would open?”

“Correct,” Carlin answered, adding, “Or where the window could have rolled down.”

Carlin said after Steinys got back in the car, he notified the men he was calling the police, and that they left before the officer arrived. He also called Marcum to tell him what had happened, Carlin said.

Marcum also testified Tuesday, saying he arrived on the scene shortly after police. He said he was able to give police Steinys’ name after hearing Carlin’s description of his attacker and the white Volkswagen.

Marcum said he had had previous issues with Steinys, and had seen him at various events. “It didn’t surprise me when [Carlin] said who it was,” said Marcum, who also runs Bertino-Tarrant’s family business, Bertino Automotive in Joliet.

Although Steinys has yet to testify, Freitag said there are three defenses for battery: self-defense, defense of another person or defense of one’s property. Polito said it will be up to the village to prove that Steinys did not act in one of those capacities.

With three more witnesses for the plaintiff still to testify, not to mention testimony from the defense, Polito cut the bench trial short, saying he had additional cases to hear Tuesday afternoon at the Plainfield branch court.

An attorney for the Village of Plainfield said two Plainfield police officers and another Bertino-Tarrant campaign worker will also testify. Freitag said only Steinys is expected to testify for the defense.

The trial will resume at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 5, at the Will County Courthouse.

Plainfield park commissioner on trial for alleged battery of political foe

A mysterious man dressed all in black and a Joliet firefighter allegedly engaged in a confrontation over political signs for a state Senate race on the eve of the Nov. 6 election.

It boiled over, ending with a third man — Peter Steinys, a campaign worker who months later was elected to the Plainfield Park District Board — being charged in Plainfield with a local ordinance violation of battery.

Steinys later helped install the candidate he was backing, Garrett Peck, as the Plainfield Park District’s new executive director.

This episode of local political intrigue made its way Tuesday to Will County Judge Joseph Polito, who began to sort it all out during a bench trial for Steinys at the branch court in Plainfield.

Steinys’ attorney, Ragan Freitag, said her client was acting in self-defense, as well as trying to defend another person and his property.

According to Tuesday’s testimony, volunteers for Peck and fellow state Senate candidate Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant put out campaign signs near Feeney Road and Route 59 in Plainfield the night before the election.

Michael Carlin of Morris — a Joliet firefighter who said he volunteered to work for the campaign of Tarrant, the eventual winner — testified that he put out pro-Tarrant signs there about 10 p.m. so voters would see them early on Election Day.

He said he returned to the intersection about 11:30 p.m. to check on the signs, and found they had been cut with a knife and tossed into a nearby field. By the light of vehicle headlights on Route 59, he noticed a man wearing all black lying in a ditch on the other side of the road, Carlin testified.

“He was lying there in wait, obviously,” Carlin said.

Carlin crossed the road to confront the man, and told him that only Tarrant’s campaign had permission to put signs there, Carlin testified.

The man in black, whom Carlin said seemed intoxicated, cursed at him and told him they had permission to put Peck’s signs there, too. Carlin testified that he cursed at the man and went back across the street to call a campaign manager.

From his vantage point, Carlin said, he saw the man in black walk toward a white Volkswagen parked near the intersection. Once Carlin confirmed that Tarrant’s campaign had permission to put signs in the field, he walked back across the street toward the car to confront the man again, he testified.

Carlin said he stood by the driver’s side window and “air knocked,” then pantomimed rolling down the car window. Carlin said he told the man in the driver’s seat — who he later found out was Steinys — to remove the signs, and added that he wasn’t looking for trouble and had just had shoulder surgery.

Carlin testified that Steinys then shoved open his car door, hitting Carlin, and said, “I’m sick of this (expletive). Don’t (expletive) with me, I’m going to (expletive) kill you.”

Steinys allegedly grabbed Carlin by the arms, and Carlin twisted away and began to run, he testified.

“I could hear him running after me, still swearing, announcing how he was going to kick my (expletive),” Carlin testified.

Steinys gave up the chase at the urging of the man in black, Carlin said. Meanwhile, Carlin called 911, as well as Tarrant campaign manager Glen Marcum, he testified.

Carlin asked Marcum to come to the scene, because, he said, “I was by myself, and I didn’t feel safe.”

Marcum testified that Carlin was very upset and shaking when Marcum arrived.

When Carlin described the vehicle and told Marcum the license plate number, Marcum knew immediately whom Carlin was dealing with, Marcum testified.

Tarrant campaign workers were familiar with Steinys and his vehicle because of “previous issues” with him during the campaign, the men said.

“It didn’t surprise me,” Marcum testified. “I knew exactly who he was referring to.”

Under cross-examination, Carlin said he did not see anyone tearing up Tarrant’s signs. He also said Steinys never actually hit him.

Freitag did not get the chance to begin her case defending Steinys, as Polito continued the trial to 1 p.m. Aug. 5.

Former Joliet cop accused in beating found innocent

A Will County jury on Wednesday found a former Joliet police officer accused of beating a woman during an arrest not guilty on all counts.

Thomas O’Connor, 37, was charged with aggravated battery after the February 2012 incident in which he punched Shantique Jackson more than 20 times while attempting to arrest her.

The jury deliberated about two hours before returning the verdict before Judge Carla Alessio-Policandriotes.

Afterward, O’Connor briefly thanked the jury; his attorneys, Jeff Tomczak and Dan Rippy; and his family for their support.

“I’m very pleased with the verdict,” Tomczak said. “It’s heartwarming to see the citizens, by way of this jury, standing up for the police officers. It’s good to see that the citizens understand how hard their job is, how dangerous their job is.”

Authorities said O’Connor committed a crime when he repeatedly punched the woman in the head and face before handcuffing her.

Defense attorneys said O’Connor was using his training properly to arrest an unruly person, making split-second decisions under difficult circumstances.

Jackson, 42, claims O’Connor gave her two black eyes, a nasal fracture, a scratch on her eyeball and bruises on her face and scalp on Feb. 9, 2012, in the parking lot of the Star Inn, 2219 W. Jefferson St., Joliet.

O’Connor was fired from the Joliet Police Department after the incident.

Jackson had called police about 1 a.m. to report a fight with her boyfriend, Anthony Layne. Jackson said she was at the motel to see Layne, who was living there, and caught him with another woman.

O’Connor responded to her call, and was the only policeman there until a backup officer arrived after Jackson was in custody, evidence showed.

While O’Connor was there, Jackson and Layne, who attorneys said is a convicted murderer, began to argue again, and Jackson kicked Layne in the groin, according to testimony.

O’Connor then tried to arrest Jackson, slammed her to the hoods of two different cars in the parking lot and punched her in the head more than 20 times, a surveillance video, which was played in the courtroom, shows. It also reveals that O’Connor eventually took Jackson to the ground and hit her a couple of more times before he handcuffed her.

O’Connor testified Wednesday morning that he punched Jackson, who is about the same size as him, as many times as necessary to gain control of a chaotic situation.

He was concerned about his safety during the incident, O’Connor said, as Layne and others were around at the time and he was working alone at a motel known as a site for past criminal activity.

Jackson testified Tuesday that she didn’t have a chance to put her hands behind her back before O’Connor began to punch her in the face. O’Connor said he gave her three or four seconds to comply with his order to give him her hands before he hit her.

Jackson resisted O’Connor’s attempts to handcuff her for about 40 seconds, O’Connor said, while he repeatedly yelled at her to give up her hands.

Jackson denied that she tried to resist O’Connor. She was arrested for domestic battery and resisting arrest, but the charges were dropped.

O’Connor said he punched Jackson because it was what he was taught to do to gain control of a situation.

The Tomczak Law Group