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

by Jeff Tomczak

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.

The Tomczak Law Group